Oct 27

Microplastics! Macro-Problem!

Posted on October 27, 2023 at 4:07 PM by Rachel Douglas

Geeking Out

Microplastics! Macro-Problem!

From its humble beginnings as Bakelite, which was used to make colorful items like radios and billiard balls in the early 20th century, plastic has expanded to a nearly ubiquitous presence in the places we live, work, and play. However, the very thing that made plastic so popular and useful, its near indestructability, is now the problem. Plastic doesn’t break down like organic compounds, rather it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics. These tiny, man-made particles persist in the environment indefinitely, moving through all phases of the water cycle and passing up the food chain through a process called bioaccumulation.   

There is a great deal of research on microplastics in marine ecosystems and it seems like nearly everyone is familiar with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of the ocean roughly 7.7 million square miles in size and filled with a haze of microplastics, 80% of which come from land-based sources. The small, colorful plastics often confuse marine bird species, which ingest them, mistaking them for food. Plastic straws and bags became infamous for their impacts on sea turtles. More recently, researchers found the presence of plastic in a newly discovered species of amphipod in the Mariana Trench, which they appropriately named Eurythenes plasticus.

Just how prolific are microplastics exactly? As Bill Nye used to say, “Consider the following:”

  • While eight billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s, less than 10% has been recycled (National Geographic).
  • It is estimated that Americans ingest at least 74,000 microplastic particles every year in food and drinks (Washington Post). When intake through air is considered, this number jumps to between 74,000 and 121,000 particles a year (Smithsonian Magazine).
  • Cigarette filters contain a plastic called cellulose acetate. Approximately six trillion cigarettes are consumed annually (National Geographic).
  • A study in 2016 found that more than 700,000 plastic fibers are released during each cycle of a washing machine and another study in 2019 estimated that there are 1.5 million trillion microfibers in the world’s oceans (UN Environment Programme).

Looking upstream from the oceans to our freshwater rivers and lakes, there is far less research on microplastic pollution. The intersection of microplastics and stormwater is even less traveled, but it is currently an emerging area of focus and concern. A journal article published in Environmental Pollution earlier this year found that microplastic pollution in rivers rises at the transition from rural to urban areas and that storm sewers are important pathways of microplastics from land into urban rivers.

Laiken with SampleWishing to investigate microplastics on a local level, the City of Springfield hired an Environmental Intern to conduct a 6-month research project on the prevalence of trash and plastic in urban stormwater. Intern Laiken Cash, a pre-med student at Drury University, conducted a combination of stormwater sampling and laboratory studies to provide a better picture of the composition and quantity of plastic in the urban environment. Stormwater samples were collected at locations with the City’s stormwater Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4), which includes storm drains, ditches and other drainageways which convey runoff toward the nearest stream. These samples were analyzed using laboratory equipment and AI software to calculate total particles in stormwater samples.

When you look at microplastics under a microscope, it’s like looking into another world. Using the eyes of a scientist, with a smidge of archeologist, you start to see the particles for what they are, some of the tiniest remnants of modern civilization. There are tiny fibers from clothing that has long been discarded, rubber crumbs from tires that may have passed through Springfield traveling the fabled Route 66, particles of a Styrofoam cub used to hold a drink on a hot summer day, and so much more. Microplastics are traditionally considered to be <5mm in size. Behind the easily identified particles, sprinkled like stars in the night sky, are tiny dots. These smaller particles, less than 1 mm in size, are referred to as nano plastics.

Running Stormwater Event Samples 6-6-23Over the course of Laiken’s internship, seven storm events were sampled at four locations and microplastics were found to be present in every sample collected. Both microfibers (from textiles, cigarette filters, etc.) and globular microplastics (tire dust, fragments, foams, etc.) were observed. The study determined that, on average, one liter of urban stormwater runoff contains seven million microplastics. Furthermore, microplastics were found in soil samples collected from detention basins, showing that these structures are effective at removing microplastics from stormwater runoff. Other studies have shown stormwater retention ponds and bioretention facilities such as rain gardens to be effective at filtering microplastics out of stormwater runoff. A study published in 2021 found bioretention facilities to be 84% effective at removing microplastics. The City’s intern completed an encouraging indoor study using five-gallon buckets filled with bioretention mix and found a very similar result, approximately 85% removal.

So, the good news is we already have potential solutions to help address the macro-problem of microplastic pollution! While it’s not going to solve the plastic pollution crisis any time soon, bioretention is certainly one tool in the toolkit, and one that we’ll likely see more of as the City implements use of green infrastructure to improve water quality of streams and lakes in our community.

davisSarah4x5_2076Sarah Wilkerson, CESSWI

Senior Stormwater Specialist

Environmental Services

[email protected]
290 E Central St, Springfield, MO 65802


Jul 07

Skip the “Nips!”

Posted on July 7, 2023 at 2:44 PM by Kristen Milam

 Improving Our Community_v3

Skip the “Nips!”

I live on a moderately busy street near the heart of the city, Bennett Street between National and Fremont, and when I mow my right-of-way, I’m careful to avoid the tiny plastic bottles that pop in my lawnmower like little landmines and send chewed up pieces of plastic spewing out with the freshly cut grass. So, when I decided to participate in Clean Green Springfield’s 2023 campaign, it was a no-brainer to register for a one-time roadway clean-up of this 2-block stretch of Bennett Street. In this relatively small stretch, I collected over a dozen of these single-serving alcohol bottles, also referred to as “nip” or “shooter” bottles. Even more concerning, it was less than a week before I started noticing them again – sitting in driveways and dropped at intersections. It got me thinking…how extensive is this issue?  

To gain a better perspective, I started collecting photos of dropped shooters every time I went for a walk in my neighborhood*. The result was a photo album collected over a 2-week period of over 250 photos of these bottles, some in grass ditches, some on streets, some in curbs and all of which, if not picked up, will make their way downstream to the nearest creek*. From there, they will continue to make their way downstream, gradually becoming degraded by sunlight and physical wear and tear, until eventually becoming microplastics, tiny plastic particles that are ingested by fish and birds.  

What is driving this problem? Anecdotally, it seems that these bottles are tossed out while driving, and there is a very obvious reason why someone would not want an open container sitting in his or her vehicle. Drinking and driving has been cited as a concern in other communities evaluating restrictions, bans, and bottle bills for these products. Another frequently cited concern is quality of place and community aesthetics. This is especially relevant for Springfield since one of City Council’s priorities is beautification of City property and roadways. Thankfully, there are many volunteer groups in town that graciously donate time and energy to the City’s Adopt-a-Street and Adopt-a-Stream programs. However, even when these containers are picked-up, the best-case scenario is disposal in a trash can. While they’re made of plastic, shooters are actually not recyclable due to their small size, which is generally too small to be sorted at transfer facilities. In a community with limited landfill space, shooters take up valuable real estate. 

Where does that leave us? With little to no value as recyclable material, one might say we’re up “nip creek.” As Senior Stormwater Specialist for the City of Springfield, I spend a great deal of time in urban streams and litter, specifically plastic litter, is a major concern for water quality. In a series of rapid trash assessments conducted in streams this year, nearly 50% of all litter surveyed was plastic (single-use, plastic bags, or other). Unfortunately, given current trends in production of plastic, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a decline in these statistics anytime soon.  


Some communities on the east coast have taken the lead in addressing this concern. The State of Connecticut enacted a “Nickle-Per-Nip” program which provides municipalities with funding for litter control and other beautification efforts. The City of Chelsea became the first community in the State of Massachusetts to ban mini bottles back in 2018. Since then, several other municipalities have followed suit.   

As citizens, we have the ability to decide what is acceptable in our community, through actions and voice, and we always have a choice. We choose to litter or seek a trash can, to bring a bag or accept the plastic one, to purchase or to “skip the nip.” I think Dr. Seuss said it best, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s Not.” 

*Surveyed areas included Rountree and Delaware Neighborhood. (See map.) Bottles were collected for disposal, which eliminated the potential for counting any twice. 

Tiny Bottles

Sarah Davis Portrait

Written By:

Sarah Davis, CESSWI

Stormwater Specialist

Environmental Services

[email protected] 
290 E Central St, Springfield, MO 65802


Apr 07

Green Spotlight - Once Upon A Child goes plastic bag free

Posted on April 7, 2023 at 3:20 PM by Rachel Douglas

Banner Options - Green Spotlight - 01

Green Spotlight - Once Upon A Child goes plastic bag free

Plastic bags have permeated the environment - You can find them in local streams, hung up in trees and even strung along the roadway. Although cheap and readily available, the reality of any single-use plastic is that it doesn’t instantly disappear once it has served its use. At the beginning of this year, local children’s store Once Upon a Child started a plastic bag free initiative to help reduce unnecessary plastic waste in its stores. Environmental Services reached out to local franchise owner, Babette Schlum, to get a better idea of how this effort has affected both her business and the surrounding community.


“I would love to tell you that the decision was solely based on a love of the environment, but it was a financial decision,” said Schlum.“With the cost of everything going up, the cost of freight is insane right now. We have everything shipped to us and bags are heavy. It was costing almost as much to ship them here as it was to purchase them.”

The transition to a plastic bag free business didn’t happen overnight. To start the conversation, Once Upon A Child staff discussed the idea with current customers for several months. To encourage customers to embrace the transition, Once Upon a Child integrated bagless events into their schedule – an effort that has been met with community support.

“Last September we did a bagless event and everything you could carry you got 30% off. That was really what kickstarted it. We were like ‘hey, we’re doing this bagless event.’ And then it was ‘by the way, were probably going to eliminate bags.’”

For those who are looking for a way to support the plastic bag free initiative, Once Upon a Child offers reusable tote bags for purchase. Totes can be purchased in store for $4.50, and are even offered for free at some of their events.

“We have been having tote sales to try and encourage people,” says Schlum. “We had a sale a few weeks ago where we gave you the tote for free and anything you could put into it you got for $12. That’s kind of a fun way to encourage customers to come in and get our tote.”

When asked how this transition has affected their business, Schlum stated that things haven’t really changed around Once Upon a Child.

“The cornerstone of what we do here is sustainability. As these younger generations are becoming parents, they're more aware of not wanting to use fast fashion, not wanting to use as many plastics and things like that. I tell my employees all the time that we’re not just a store, we provide an important service for our community.We need to not lose track of that, and anytime I can save the store money - by not having plastic bags - I'm saving my customers money because I don’t have to raise prices. And that allows me to continue to carry on and provide this service for our community, and I think that’s what's really important.”

To any business thinking about adopting plastic-free initiatives, Schlum has one piece of advice, “Now is the Time.”

“If you can, do it. It's one less thing for my employees to worry about. It's something good that I know were doing for the environment. It saves on the bottom line, which is what most business owners are probably going to care about, and because so many consumers are environmentally aware or conscious, they don’t mind it. The bottom line is if you can, you should - there's no reason not to. So many people are already using reusable bags or are open to it. Now is probably the time, we’ve seen no negative impacts. Our customers have been really open to it.”

Efforts like those made by Once Upon a Child illustrate the ability of local businesses to lead by example and set a precedent within the community that being environmentally conscious is a priority for Springfield consumers. The capability of businesses to succeed in plastic-free initiatives depends upon the support of consumers and the surrounding community.

Once Upon a Child is a children’s clothing store located at 1421 S Glenstone Ave in Springfield, Mo. They are open daily from 9am-8pm, 12-6pm on Sundays, and can be reached at (417) 886–1853.

Written By:

Laiken Cash

Environmental Intern 
Environmental Services Department
[email protected]
209 E. Central St., Springfield, MO 65802