Volunteers dive in to remove trash from polluted waterways

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

They eagerly wade into the water and dig for trash.

“If everyone would do a little bit, just a little bit, it would make a big difference,” said Jean Bryer, Central Jersey Stream Team volunteer.

The Central Jersey Stream Team doesn’t need to dig for long. With shovels in hand, they pull up everything from shopping carts to bikes.

“If somebody goes out and they go in their kayak, or they’re on the edge of the river and they see a lot of trash, then they automatically think that it’s not clean. And for a lot of people it triggers in their head, yeah, this is somewhere where I can dump my stuff. Our goal is to clean that up, so if someone sees an area that’s clean they’re less likely to make it worse,” said president Jens Riedel.

It all started during a family canoe trip on the Raritan River.

“They wanted to unplug my nieces and nephews and get them outside; let’s get them outside and let’s get them in the environment,” said Dawn Moeller, Stream Team secretary.

While on the water, they spotted loads of trash and decided to start cleaning it up.

“My nieces and nephews were counting tires in the water more than they were counting any of the wildlife,” Moeller said. “And then they started taking out piece by piece, and they figured it starts with just one.”

Eventually news of their efforts began to spread and other volunteers joined to create the Central Jersey Stream Team in 2013.

“We started with the Raritan River, and that’s been our focus up to now, the Raritan River Watershed,” Riedel said. “The goal is just to obviously to remove the trash we can and bring awareness to the fact that there is a lot pollution in the water as far as dumping trash and littering and also trying to get people to understand the connection between how the whole storm-water system works as far as anything that lands on street, whether it’s a plastic bottle or a can, it will eventually make its way into waterways and then out into the ocean.”

The nonprofit’s expanding their reach. On this day, they’re cleaning up the Rahway River.

“Because it’s a tidal area the water rises and falls with the tides, and at low tide, there’s a lot of big items that are resting on the bed, and it’s very unsightly,” said Clea Carchia, executive director of the Rahway River Watershed Association.

“When people see other people getting involved in the community and taking action, it makes them feel obligated to get involved and really want to participate in events like this,” said Rahway Mayor Raymond Giacobbe.

So far the Central Jersey Stream Team has organized 75 clean-up events. They’ve removed more than 4,600 tires, 35 bikes, 45 shopping carts and even a few cars. The trash from this day’s event is piled up in one area and it will be removed by the local public works department.

It takes a team to do the job. Items like carpet are soaking wet and covered in mud. While volunteers pull it from the water, others spend more than 30 minutes digging out a cart.

“In some cases this stuff has been there for decades and it takes a dozen people with shovels and pry bars and hooks and just digging with your hands to get at this stuff and get the mud and bricks off before you can get this entire thing, whatever it is, a tire a shopping cart out of the water,” said volunteer Joe Cicco.

By the end of afternoon, the team pulled out piles of trash from the Rahway River. It’s motivation to keep cleaning.