St. Paul helps lead the country in project to track Mississippi River plastic pollution

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Calling all science lovers: Researchers need your help for a new "citizen science" project aimed at cleaning up plastic pollution along U.S. waterways.

St. Paul is one of the pilot cities joining a national effort to track where trash is piling up. The program is called the Mississippi River Plastic Pollution Initiative and it’s a partnership with the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI), the mayors of the Mississippi River, United Nations Environment Programme, National Geographic Society and the University of Georgia.

Using a new app called the Marine Debris Tracker, citizen scientists of all ages are asked to clean up and help track plastic pollution along the Mississippi River. Scientists will use the data collected for future research, like mapping out areas that are seeing the worst pollution, to help make informed policies.

"The long term goals of this project, in this first go-around, are to get a snapshot, an understanding of plastic pollution along the Mississippi and how that corresponds with ocean plastic pollution," said Angie Tillgess, fellow for the Great River Passage Initiative for the City of St. Paul.

While St. Paul is more than 2,000 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, the plastic found in the Mississippi River eventually makes its way to the ocean. Plastic pollution has become a global problem that’s killing marine wildlife and habitat and researchers say the Mississippi River plays a major role.

"As the capital city in the headwater state of the Mississippi River, we have a responsibility to send clean water to the rest of the country and beyond," St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said.

The app is an opportunity for Minnesotans of all ages to get involved in conservation and make a difference in the ecosystem locally and globally.

St. Paul, along with St. Louis and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, will help launch the pilot phase of the program. Data collection will begin April 1-25, but the app can be downloaded now. It’s free and available on Android and iPhone devices.