JoCo on the Go Podcast: Plogging through Johnson County

On JoCo on the Go, episode #108, Johnson County and the Mid-America Regional Council join forces to fight litter with a unique event that pairs jogging with picking up trash along Kansas City area parks, trails and waterways. Find out how you can take part in Plogtober. Also, learn about the big impact small amounts of garbage can have on water quality and wildlife.

JoCo on the Go webcast, episode #108: Plogging through Johnson County 10.6.21

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Time Subject
00:24 Introduction
02:16 What is plogging?
05:07 What happens when trash enters waterways?
07:17 A regional collaboration
10:12 How to register?
11:44 Educating kids about water and trash


Theresa Freed 00:00

Six counties 13 parks 44 watersheds and one day of fun on this episode find out how you can get some exercise while keeping the Kansas City area clean.

Announcer 00:11

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 00:24

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Johnson County has some amazing amenities, including some wonderful parks and waterways. But taking care of these assets means we all have to do our part. And this month, there's a great event designed to do just that. Here to talk more about that is Heather Schmidt with Johnson County's public works department and also Synthia Isah with the mid America Regional Council. Thank you both for being here.

Theresa Freed 00:57

Well, first off, let's just talk a little bit about the the work that you do in the county and within the region. And we'll go ahead and start with Heather.

Heather Schmidt 01:05

I'm the program manager for the Johnson County Stormwater Management Program. And a lot of my role is to address water quality issues and stormwater. And I do this by working with the partners in the cities on their stormwater permits with the state to keep the water clean and then also regionally. And this is where I work with the Mid America Regional Council and Synthia, I'm keeping water quality, doing water quality mission messaging across the whole region.

Theresa Freed 01:40

All right. And Cynthia, can you talk about your work with Mid America Regional Council, also known as MARC?

Synthia Isah 01:45

Absolutely. So I'm a water quality planner with the Mid America Regional Council, I support a number of committees who do water quality education across the entire metro, both sides of the state line. I also run a number of projects that are intended to do something similar. So right now we're focused really on green infrastructure and other things that communities and residents can do to improve water quality, which is where this event comes in. And so we're really excited to have an opportunity to talk a little bit about our Plogtober event later this month.

Theresa Freed 02:16

Right. And this is a concept I've never heard of Heather sent us an email in the Public Information Office and and encouraged us to share this information. And so I had to do a little bit of digging just to do some research on it, but it's a different concept. So can you talk about what is plogging and can you talk about also the event that's coming up?

Synthia Isah 02:36

Absolutely. So plogging is an event that comes from Sweden actually the word plogging is a combination of two Swedish Words that mean jogging and litter pickup. And so the idea is that we invite residents out to do some litter pickup along local trails, near streams and waterways to prevent litter from getting into the waterways and impacting water quality. So we have a plog scheduled throughout the entire month of October. Actually, this is our Plogtober event. So throughout the entire month, we're inviting residents to get out and do some local litter pickup around their neighborhoods, their communities, their workplaces, but we're also coordinating a single event on October 17, which is a Chiefs Sunday, I understand but I'm hoping that residents can get out sometime during that day either before or after the game to do a little bit of plogging. And this on on the 17th we'll be coordinating six pickups across the entire Metro along a number of different trails, trails and streams.

Theresa Freed 03:35

Okay, and some of those are happening in Johnson County. So which ones are here in Johnson County?

Heather Schmidt 03:40

The Mill Creek Streamway trail along Mill Creek, and then also on Indian Creek in Overland Park.

Theresa Freed 03:47

So can you talk about too like what does this look like? I'm just picturing somebody jogging with a trash bag. And do they just happen to see something and they stop their jogging for a moment and pick it up or how does how does that work?

Synthia Isah 04:01

That's exactly it. That's exactly it. So this is really about recreation about getting outside and enjoying some of our local trails and also doing some litter cleanup so we definitely don't expect anyone to get out there with a full size trash bag or you know wheelbarrow full of trash. This is a pretty, pretty easy pretty simple event. It's more in the realm of many hands making light work so invite people to get out with say grocery bag or just a small trash bag and to pick up litter as they see it. litter specifically being plastic bottles, kind of discarded trash PPE for example masks, they may have been left behind. We're definitely not asking anybody to pick up dumping or large litter events or large instances of trash and so if people see tires or you know, hopefully no, you know, illegal materials but we're asking people to leave that stuff behind. There are other ways that that can be picked up. This is really just a way to start picking up some of the litter that gets left behind when people aggregate in a space when people visit some of our trails in the metro.

Theresa Freed 05:07

So what are some of the concerns when trash is left behind? Like, what does that do to the water. So

Synthia Isah 05:13

There are actually a number of impacts the trash can have on our water. And I'll let Heather speak to this a little bit more. But one of the major ways that trash can impact our waterways is that when it gets into the water, it can start to impact some of the green infrastructure projects that we have around the city, for example, clogging up some of those rain gardens or bio retention efforts. And that can be kind of negative because the green infrastructure is designed to capture and clean rainwater. I'll leave it to Heather to talk a little bit about the other ways.

Heather Schmidt 05:46

So that's a really good point, Synthia, also just our grey infrastructure, like our stormwater drainage systems, when people put trash on the ground, like on the street is not even near a waterway that gets in when it rains, it gets washed into this, the storm drains and those can clog that can cause issues, for flooding and for water quality. Additionally, when we start to think about stream health as a whole, we hear a lot about plastic in the ocean. This is a way that plastic gets into the ocean and trash gets into the ocean. It flows from our streets and our streams here and flows downstream. So that obviously impacts fish, we hear about fish eating micro microplastics, in particular, mistaking other things for food. So it's a kind of, we don't focus so much on the chemistry of the water, but just the stream health in general with the trash.

Theresa Freed 06:46

Okay, so you see, you know, a surgical mask or something like that on the ground, it may not seem all that significant. But all that stuff probably adds up, and it has a larger impact on on our waterways. That makes sense.

Heather Schmidt 07:01

Our motto, her slogan for the water quality education committee with MARC is if it's on the ground, it's in our water so that pretty much you know, anything you put on the ground, anything you leave on the ground, will eventually make it into our waterways.

Theresa Freed 07:17

Gotcha. And can you talk a little bit more about this regional collaboration, not just on this event, but in terms of looking at environmental sustainability and improving our water quality and things along those lines?

Synthia Isah 07:32

Absolutely. So with the Mid America Regional Council, we try to keep a regional focus on a lot of the work we do. As the transportation and environment department specifically, we have a number of committees that coordinate efforts across the metro. So I facilitate the water quality education committee, and that's how I know and work with Heather. And we have a number of activities throughout the year that helps to promote water quality water quality improvements, we do stormwater education for residents and are trying to build out some support for local contractors and residents who are more interested in green infrastructure, we know that the impacts on one community has on the local water quality are felt in other parts of our community. And so taking this regional approach really allows us to have a more holistic view and holistic impact on improving our water quality, and really allows us all to get involved in being proactive and doing work together that that improves the quality of health and the quality of life of our all of our communities across the metro.

Theresa Freed 08:28

So one of the things I like about this plogging event is it's it's not just adult focused, it's probably a good way to introduce children to the concepts of picking up litter and, and taking care of our environment. So can you talk about how there's been some success with with that education component.

Synthia Isah 08:46

So absolutely, this is the first plog we're doing virtually previous plogs have been in-person events. And those events were an opportunity to get the whole family, our parents, children, grandparents to do litter pick up together in one coordinated event. We know that with COVID-19 the plans have changed and so this year, we will be holding a virtual plog. And so this is a family friendly event we're asking anyone to get out there and to bring your children along to bring your your elders long and to really get the entire community involved. This is a pretty low key event, like I said, and so really it's more about enjoying the trails and just doing some some pretty simple cleanup as as we go. We're partnering with the Girl Scouts of the Greater Kansas City metro to do this event. And so there are going to be other troops or groups of young girls who are involved with this. But really this is an opportunity to get some hands on education about where where the trash is coming from and why it's being placed there and why it's important to pick it up and also to start pushing that point that that shows that we selected our long local waterways and so it becomes much easier to see that that trash can end up in our local streams and make its way to the Missouri River and eventually, like Heather said to the ocean, and so we're really hoping to push that kind of hands-on proximity based Education and really bringing youth into it because we recognize that the sooner they learn about environmental stewardship, the better advocates they're going to be for the condition of their environment as they're aging.

Theresa Freed 10:12

Okay, that's great information. And that, you know, brings up a question, I was wondering if this was more organized with larger groups doing it kind of like, how people will Adopt a Highway, and they will take a portion of that into the cleanup along that. So is there a formal like registration process? Or do you take a certain section of an area? Or how does that work?

Synthia Isah 10:34

Absolutely. So there are two options for this plog. One is, we're inviting families to pick up litter around their own communities. And so they can do that at their own leisure throughout the entire month of October. But we do also have this coordinated plug effort where there is a registration online, you can reach it at KC plug tober comm and that will reroute you to the Clean Water Education website that we maintain for the water quality education committee, which is And at that site, you can register either yourself for an individual or family plog or community group work, workplace group green teams for a more collective plog on October 17. And so that is going to be our more formal option, the October 17 plog. And on that date, we're inviting you to choose whatever trail you want to visit, whether it's in your community near your workplace, a place that you love, and cherish and visit often. And as long as it's kind of in our short list of of litter hotspots that we know of. We're welcoming anyone to go to any plogging site and to pick up litter, and also at the end of the plog to take a picture of themselves, their group, the trash that they pick up and to submit it for a prize giveaway.

Theresa Freed 11:44

All right, that's great. And just to bring it back to Johnson County, a little bit Heather, can you talk about some of the educational campaigns or the different things that we have going on with within your division to educate people on the importance of picking up their garbage and keeping our waterways safe and clean?

Heather Schmidt 12:04

Sure, I'd be happy to. We have several different education campaigns that we do throughout the county, one of our large campaign or one of our large efforts is we do have some nonprofits working for us in schools. And they do actually water quality education for eighth grades, eighth graders across most of the county, where they take the kids out, and they actually go and do water quality sampling. Along with this in some of the situations, they also do a trash pickup at their school. And so that kind of connects, it starts to help those kids connect, you know, the trash is here, but maybe that doesn't necessarily connect with water quality or how our stream health is. But when we start to bring that information together, that's a kind of light bulb for a lot of kids and understanding how what their impacts are on our environment. Another big thing that we do is we work with K State Extension to do adult education for taking care of their landscapes. Because this is another place where that message of if it's on the ground, it's in your water really hits home. And this is where you know what the chemicals we put on our lawns. To make them weed free or to make them green and grow. Those things can have an impact on our water quality. They can cause pollution and algal blooms and things like that in our in our waterways. But we just need to be cognizant of how we're doing, how we're applying them to our lawns and getting soil tests and learning what we need to apply to our lawns to make them grow efficiently but also protect water quality.

Theresa Freed 14:01

Okay, that's great information and where can people go to get more information both in Johnson County and from the mid America Regional Council on improving water quality.

Heather Schmidt 14:11

We work together on a great website that MARC hosts

Synthia Isah 14:13 is going to be the best place to stay in touch with the work that MARC is doing to educate residents about water quality. We have events and other resources available on that website and through you can register for the plog and you should be redirected to the site that way as well and so definitely check it out.

Theresa Freed 14:37

All right, well, let's look for some some good October weather so plenty of people can get out and and keep our county and also our entire region clean. Thank you both for being here today. I really appreciate it.

Theresa Freed 14:51

And thank you for listening.

Announcer 14:53

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County Have a topic you want to discuss. We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCo on the Go. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening

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