Katie Register is the executive director of Clean Virginia Waterway (CVW), a program of Longwood University in Virginia, which is affiliated with the Ocean Conservancy. Much like the Alliance’s Project Clean Stream, CVW has pioneered work in preventing litter and trash from entering our rivers and the ocean. I asked Katie to tell me about how she started CVW.

Katie said, “In 1994, I attended my first cleanup of litter in Four-Mile Run – a stream in Arlington, VA. I was amazed and shocked at the amount of small plastic pieces that were in the stream and in 1995, the Ocean Conservancy asked me to be the Virginia coordinator for the international Coastal Cleanup (ICC), and I started Clean Virginia Waterways.” 

The Alliance has worked with Katie and CVW through our water quality monitoring programs. CVW and the Alliance both help lead the Virginia Water Monitoring Council, and offer professional development workshops and conferences related to all things water. However, now we are excited to continue this partnership with our joint efforts towards hosting cleanup events! 

Katie has always been passionate about the connection between trash and water quality. While studying for her masters, Katie researched the toxic properties of the most common type of litter on Earth, cigarette butts. Now, CVW is working with groups all across the mid-atlantic to stop the intentional releasing of helium-filled balloons in the air. “Research CVW did with the VA Aquarium show that balloon-related litter (that includes plastic ribbons that are attached to balloons) are the second most common type of litter found on Virginia’s remote beaches!” 

When I first talked with Katie, she mentioned the importance of recording and keeping track of the trash that we find during cleanups. “Cleaning up our Earth, and keeping plastic pollution from reaching the ocean is so important and rewarding! And if volunteers also record what they are finding, then the cleanup is doubly impactful.” There are a couple different apps you can use to record the trash that you pick up, however, Katie recommends “Cleanswell.” Katie explains the importance of this app, “Volunteers record how many cigarette butts, bottle caps, and other items they are finding. CVW and other groups use the data to help inform policies, create educational campaigns, and identify ‘hot spots’ that need attention. During the last legislative session in Virginia, many state delegates and senators referred to the volunteer-collected data as they crafted laws to reduce plastic pollution.”

I asked Katie about her favorite part of cleanup events and she said, “There is such a powerful feeling when you see the difference you and your team made. A clean beach that used to be trashed – a stream that is now litter free. Picking up litter – while humbling – leaves one feeling great. Plus you get to be outside — that is always a bonus.” 

If you live in Virginia, please consider checking out Clean Virginia Waterways at Longwood University as well as the Alliance’s PCS site to find a cleanup event near you! 

CVW and the Alliance are excited to be working together this fall to encourage more people to participate in these important stewardship events (even while social distancing!)