Minneapolis artist takes unique approach to solve pollution problem at Lake Hiawatha

June 17, 2019 10:28 PM

A Minneapolis man wants to send a strong message about the pollution problem at Lake Hiawatha, and he says multiple groups are to blame.

"I think we're all wrestling with how to address this problem," said Sean Connaughty, the primary artist for this project. 


For the last 5 years, Connaughty has tried to solve the pollution problem on Lake Hiawatha.

This year, he and some volunteers removed 350 pounds of trash from the lake.

"The trash is coming from us in our community," Connaughty said. 

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After sorting through it, he decided to build pieces of art to show the public where the garbage is coming from. The top four companies are Pepsi, Coca-Cola, McDonalds and the Mars Corporation.

"I would love for them to step up and to contribute funding to treat the storm water for Lake Hiawatha," Connaughty said. 

Along with these companies and consumers, Connaughty also partly blames the City of Minneapolis and the Park and Recreation Board because they control the infrastructure that leads to waste getting into the city's lakes. 

"I began working towards getting the city and the parks to create a mitigation system to treat the storm waters," Connaughty said. 

The city and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board tell 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they appreciate Connaughty drawing attention to this issue and recognize the problem. But they stress storm water diversion and trash management is in their long term master plan to minimize pollution. 

"Unfortunately I would believe it," said Patty Friel, who lives in Minneapolis and enjoys coming to the lake. 

Friel isn't surprised there's that much trash in this lake, and she believes it's our job to make sure garbage goes where it belongs to keep the lakes beautiful for future generations. 

"Picking up stuff even if it's not ours," Friel said. "Taking responsibility for it."

We reached out to all four of the companies featured in this project.

McDonalds says, "McDonald's is focused on improving its packaging to help significantly reduce waste and positively impact the communities we serve around the world. In Minneapolis, McDonald's restaurants comply with the Green to Go Environmentally Acceptable Packaging Ordinance. We offer recycling and garbage receptacles within our restaurants and we encourage our customers to use appropriate refuse containers to dispose of their waste when they take their orders to go."

Mars Corporation says, "We're disappointed to learn that our packaging has been found in the Lake Hiawatha Trash Survey and commend the effort of the Standish- Ericsson Neighborhood Associate to keep the shorelines and lake clean. At Mars, we are committed to sustainable packaging and our vision is a world where plastics and packaging never become waste. Our goal is to design packaging that is 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. In order to achieve our goals we are collaborating with NGO's, governments and partners like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastic Economy Global Commitment. We are also committed to supporting consumer recycling and litter education."

The Minnesota Beverage Association, which represents Coke and Pepsi, also responded, saying, "America's beverage companies have long worked with conservation organizations and anti-litter groups to keep our waterways clean, and there is no good reason for our containers to be thrown away given that we have carefully designed them to be 100% recyclable, even the caps. We want every bottle back and if properly disposed of, our containers can be recycled again and again for new bottles or for other products."

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Brett Hoffland

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