Every year at the beginning of spring, the Traffic and Environmental Management of the City of Innsbruck and the Tiroler Wasserwacht organize the ‘Inn-Ufer-Reinigung’. Volunteers from different backgrounds come together to give the riverbanks a good cleaning and collect all the litter accumulated over the winter. No one person or organisation is officially responsible for keeping the riverbanks clean, which is why the city relies on volunteers to do the ‘dirty work’.
But why do people do this? Why wake up at 6.30 on a Saturday morning to go clean up rubbish you probably haven’t put there yourself? Is it for the free lunch you get afterwards as a sign of appreciation? I don’t think so…
Innsbruckers, and many of the city’s foreign visitors, tend to be outdoor-sy people who love spending their time in the pristine natural surroundings. They care about the environment, and like to contribute to a cleaner and healthier Innsbruck. Nevertheless, no city is litter-free, and sadly too much trash still finds its way into the waterways.
Pollution of waterways is a global problem that contributes not just to environmental, recreational, and health issues, but also directly affects river flow patterns and flood events. Cleaning up the river environment is in everyone’s interests: it makes Innsbruck both prettier and safer.
As I was leaving Innsbruck to go back to Belgium the following Monday, the clean-up was the perfect opportunity for me to give back to this beautiful city I called home for three months. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and ideal weather to be outside and active. All us volunteers were given rubbish bags to fill and tools to safely pick everything up with; then it was time to roll up our sleeves and get on with the job at hand.
Together with some boy scouts, my blogger colleague Elisabeth and I tackled the litter on the north bank of the Inn head on. Luckily for us this was the sunny side of the river – the other bank looked much chillier in the shade!
In total 4.5 tons of trash were collected, of which 3.5 tons were residual waste and 1 ton was scrap metal. Most of the trash we picked up was typical litter that got into the river somewhere upstream, and then got stuck somewhere along its way downstream. However near the more popular meeting places we also found lots of plastic bottles, and even a couple of bicycles!
There are many ways litter ends up in the river. The main problem is people simply being careless with their rubbish. Just because you don’t throw rubbish directly in the river, doesn’t mean it won’t end up in it. Wind and rain blow and wash litter down hills, along roads, and into streams. From there it can end up in all sorts of places where it shouldn’t be.
Plastic pollution is one of the major threats our planet is facing right now, without disregarding the many human crises we still struggle with. Plastics and other litter are choking our oceans, seas, lakes and rivers in almost unimaginable proportions, with little chance of ever fully reversing the damage we’ve already caused.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! Especially with more and more people joining life on this planet, humans will have to work together and come up with solutions to solve this problem and work on building a cleaner society where trash is collected and recycled effectively and collectively.
To me, this clean-up was not only about cleaning the litter that was already there. It’s about creating consciousness concerning the problem of pollution. Knowing where trash might end up will hopefully make people more aware of where and how they dump their garbage next time.
However, you don’t need to wait for other people to organise clean-ups to help tackle the problem. It starts at the individual level with the most trivial things. Be responsible for the products you consume, and produce as little waste as possible. For example, bring your own bags to the grocery store. And next time you order a soda, do you really need that plastic straw?
The next Inn-Ufer-Reinigung will be around March 2019. Think about joining this event and bring some friends! Contributing to a cleaner Innsbruck is super rewarding and really makes a difference to the environment – and on a bigger scale than you might imagine.