Trash 101

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Become Part of the Trash Solution

Did you know that plastic foam breaks off docks and pollutes our rivers? Or that over 10 million waste tires are found across New England each year? Learn more about the most common types of trash that plague our waterways and the steps you can take to reduce their impact.

Trash found in the river spelling the word "help" across the ground


In the over two decades that volunteers have been cleaning up the Connecticut River basin, over 13,000 tires have been removed from in and around our rivers during our Source to Sea Cleanup event.

Placing the disposal cost of tires on consumers is a recipe for illegal dumping. CRC calls upon legislators and tire producers to embrace more widespread Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs, which lead to free, easy disposal of tires and eliminate or reduce the incentive for illegal dumping. EPR programs have been successful across the country and the world to turn waste into a reusable commodity. These programs also include advanced market development, which can increase the value of post-consumer materials and provide opportunities for economic development.

It is difficult to estimate how many tires are recycled or reused versus those that become waste. A 2002 report from the Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association (NEWMOA) provides the following estimates per state:

  • Vermont: 610,000
  • New Hampshire: 1.2 million
  • Connecticut: 3.4 million
  • Massachusett: 6.4 million

JP Routhier, a tire shredder in Littleton, MA operates the only tire recycling facility in the four Connecticut River states.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire prohibit whole tires from entering landfills, while Connecticut and Vermont prohibit tires in landfills, either whole or in pieces. Within New England, most current waste tires are used as fuel, typically at paper mills in Maine.

When possible, recycling is the preferred method of disposal. This may include integration of tires as crumb rubber into asphalt for roads, or other civil engineering products.

A major benefit to substituting tire shreds or chips for traditional gravel, stone, or soil is that the unit weight of tire chips is substantially less, reducing transportation costs and increasing the ease of placement in many cases. House foundations and septic system installations are also current uses for waste tires but the potential quantities are smaller.

While many tires in the region are currently incinerated for fuel, a process known as tire-derived fuel (TDF), and tires can replace other fossil fuels in this process, this does not truly represent recycling and carries harmful impact to the environment in the transportation and burning of tires.

According to the Scrap Tire Management Council, there is a reluctance to incorporate used tires into new tire production due to the public’s perception that tires with a recycled content would be less safe than tires made completely from virgin material.


Plastic — including bags, bottles, and polystyrene (Styrofoam®) — is consistently one of the most found items during the CRC’s Source to Sea Cleanup.

In 2019, Cleanup volunteers collected over 30,000 beverage containers — most were plastic bottles, nips, or other plastic containers. Over 150,000 beverage containers have been removed from in and around our rivers in the over two decades that volunteers have been cleaning up the Connecticut River basin. These items never fully break down.

Manufacturers, businesses, and the government need to lead the way in overhauling how we make and use plastic. This includes:

  • Banning single-use plastic
  • Using better types of plastic
  • Make recycling easy
  • Keeping Styrofoam out of our rivers by using better types of dock floats

When plastic enters the river, it breaks up into tiny pieces, but never fully degrades. As a result, our waterways become polluted with large quantities of what is known as “microplastic.” Over time, these particles make their way to the large floating garbage patches in our oceans. Along the way, wildlife may become entangled in it or try to eat it, which can lead to death.

A 2012 study found plastic pollutants change the growth and development of juvenile shortnose sturgeon, a federally endangered fish found in parts of the Connecticut River. Endangered freshwater mussels in the watershed are very vulnerable to plastic particles and other water pollutants, and the populations of freshwater mussels have severely declined in the last several decades due to pollution and habitat loss.

MassachusettsAn estimated 697,000 tons of plastic waste are generated annually with about 5.4% of plastic waste recycled, as of 2010.

Vermont — No estimates for the amount of plastic waste generated. About 35% of all waste is recycled; no specific numbers for plastic.

New Hampshire — No estimates for the amount of plastic waste generated. About 30.77% of all containers (including glass and aluminum) were recycled in 2012. No numbers for plastics specifically.

Connecticut — No estimates for the amount of plastic waste generated or the percentage of plastic recycled is available, but the Municipal Solid Waste report for the 2014 fiscal year states that Connecticut recycled 109,994.11 tons of container material (bottles, cartons, etc) during the year.

The cost of recycling plastic fluctuates with the market for recycled plastic and depends on how much non-plastic material is present in a load of plastic slated for recycling. This is why it’s so important to separate your recyclables and make sure that they’re all in the correct place. Non-recyclable material that ends up at recycling plants increases the costs for plant operators and sometimes results in unsellable material.

A true cost-benefit analysis of plastic recycling must include analysis of costs that aren’t paid right away. This includes the cost of water quality restoration, as well as non-monetary costs like detrimental health effects, extinction, habitat loss, and other consequences, which can have repercussions for our economy that are more difficult to quantify.

For the most part, waste plastics produced in the Connecticut River watershed are transported out of the region to be recycled at both domestic and international operations or placed in landfills. One recycling company in Springfield, MA has the capacity to process many different kinds of plastics into shredded or baled products that are then sold to manufacturers. Recycled plastic can be used in clothing, traffic cones, insulation, kitchenware, and many other products we use every day.

Over 100 cities and towns have passed plastic bans. In the Connecticut River basin, these towns that have banned single-use plastic bags for retail operations include:

  • Amherst*
  • Athol
  • Becket
  • Buckland (proposed)
  • Greenfield*
  • Longmeadow
  • Northampton
  • South Hadley*
  • Springfield

* Banned single-use, plastic foam take-out containers — also proposed in Northampton.

A statewide ban on polystyrene/Styrofoam is currently in the works.

A state-wide plastic bag ban was passed into law. No polystyrene legislation currently exists.

A state-wide plastic ban was passed into law. It includes single-use plastic bags, straws, drink stirrers, foam food, and drink containers.

New Hampshire:
No towns have plastic bag bans because town governments cannot create bans without state approval. No polystyrene legislation currently exists. Portsmouth (outside the watershed) has voted to pass a ban but cannot enforce it.


Many docks stay afloat by using plastic foam due to its low cost. However, that plastic foam (expanded polystyrene foam, a.k.a. Styrofoam®) degrades and breaks apart, polluting our waterways, choking our wildlife, and eventually becomes structurally compromised and sinks in the water, compounding the problem.

Unfortunately, plastic foam is common in aquatic environments. It’s one of the most persistent types of waste collected at the Source to Sea Cleanup. In 2019, volunteers removed 1.46 cubic yards of polystyrene from our waterways, including 50 pieces of polystyrene dock floats. Plastic foam is difficult to clean up because it breaks into small bits that are nearly impossible to collect.

How is CRC working to address plastic foam pollution?

Funded by a grant from the Ocean Conservancy International Coastal Cleanup, the CRC approach to tackling the use of plastic foam floatation is two-fold:

  1. Leading the efforts for Rulemaking by Petition in each state throughout the Connecticut River basin, requiring relevant environmental departments to review rules for restricting plastic foam floatation.
  2. Launching an outreach campaign to educate dock owners and the public about plastic foam flotation harms and alternatives.

Help spread the word! Print and hang this ‘Swap Your Dock’ flyer. If you or some you know owns a dock and wants to help, please contact us.

Additional Information

To avoid pollution from plastic foam dock floats, dock owners should consider encapsulating foam in polyethylene or other surface covering or should install closed cell polyethylene or dedicated plastic float drums.

Float drums are an inexpensive and effective alternative that does not require any plastic foam filling, resists wear and tear, and can be repurposed at little to no cost from large beverage companies such as Coca-Cola. Floating docks built from 55-gallon drums can also be purchased as kits and assembled separately.

Compressed air in high-density polyethylene provides a sustainable flotation option, as the docks are heat-sealed with roughly 200 pounds of compressed air within. Such docks are so durable that some even come with a lifetime warranty.

View comparisons on much various dock flotation options cost over 30 or 50 years:

Un-encapsulated plastic foam is vulnerable to “beading off” when it comes into contact with rocks, boats, wind, and animals. Additionally, over time, (usually within 15 years) plastic foam in docks breaks down due to weathering from contact with hard objects and exposure to winds and waves.

The US Army Corps found that fish and wildlife ingest the particles and it leaches chemicals such as benzene, styrene, and ethylene into the water, which are acutely toxic to freshwater aquatic life in small doses. Additionally, the physical degradation of plastic foam floatation threatens wildlife, as plastic beads clog the airways of species and enter their digestive tracts, preventing them from absorbing vital nutrients.

It is estimated that plastic foam may NEVER fully break down in the natural environment, remaining a threat to aquatic ecosystems forever.

Some marine contractors, recycling companies, and garbage haulers will recycle plastic foam — contact your local waste hauler to find out their policies. One dock company creates a module that is roto molded from recycled polyethylene and is secondarily supported by 80 pressurized 2-liter plastic soft drink bottles. Plastic foam particles can also be combined with a solvent and used as recycled asphalt to patch potholes on roads and highways.