Trash boom and volunteers keep Malden River cleaner

City officials, Mystic River Watershed Association, Malden River Works, and Metropolitan Area Planning Council members meet at Karen Buck’s “office” (a.k.a. the City Yard) before a canoe tour.

By  Karen Buck

“Welcome to my office,” I recently told Malden city councilors and officials when I took them on a canoe tour of the Malden River, a waterway I cherish. I was happy to tell them that, thanks to the installation of a trash boom on the river and the hard work of volunteers, “my office” was getting cleaner.

Consider the math: Since midsummer, the Trash Free Malden River Project, funded by the Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET), has recruited 74 volunteers who donated 316 hours for clean up. We collected 1,120 single use plastic bottles, 976 alcoholic “nips,” 57 pounds of dry polystrene (Styrofoam), and 300 pounds of miscellaneous trash from the river.

Some of this trash would have flowed down the Malden River into the Mystic River and may have continued into the Boston Harbor. Some of this trash would have been caught by the vegetation along the shoreline, disrupting the balance of nature. Without any cleanups, all of the plastic trash would have degraded into microplastics in the water, ruining our ecosystem and poisoning our environment. Microplastics harbor toxins and harmful bacteria so it’s a joy to see this all removed from our local river.

Much of this river clean up is possible due to a trash boom, donated by the Clean River Project (CRP) of the Merrimack River Valley and installed on July 7, 2019. It spans the Malden River behind the 188-200 Commercial Street Plaza. This is just below huge culverts where the Malden River “daylights” (emerges from the underground storm water system). Most of Malden street stormwater drains through these large culverts. Street litter is pushed through the storm water system into the Malden River during every rain event.

July 7, 2019: Photo of the newly installed trash boom. Look up the Malden River to see the large culverts. Most of Malden’s street stormwater drains flow into the Malden River through these culverts bringing street litter into the river.

The Trash Free Malden River initiative clears the trash boom of trash on a monthly basis and runs volunteer Malden River Cleanup events downstream of the boom. Volunteers separate and count the collections for data analysis after the monthly cleanups. The MET grant of $9,805 will support the Friends of the Malden River’s maintenance of the trash boom through June, 2020. The trash boom was donated by the Clean River Project (CRP) of the Merrimack River Valley.

Malden Girl Scouts pitch in with helpful hands.

Many of the volunteers have fallen in love with the Malden River. The Girl Scouts of Malden visited the Malden River for a Clean Water Badge. The Girl Scout motto, “Many hands make less work” was made manifest during the trash-sorting adventure. Among the many items collected, they noted the huge amount of cigarette butts. The Girl Scouts suggested various ideas for keeping the river cleaner, including providing ash trays for public picnic tables along the river.

YMCA leaders pitched in with many hands as well. The group helped with the “Canoe on the Malden River” event on Sept. 28. They enjoyed the event so much that they asked to paddle again on the river. On Oct. 5, not only did they have time to paddle, they collected more trash than what they could count.

The outdoor club of Tufts University has also participated in cleanup, pulling heavy items from the river including four car tires.

Members of the Malden Teen Enrichment Center (MTEC) have been both dismayed and challenged by reducing trash in the city of Malden and in the Malden River. Twenty-one Malden High School/MTEC students gathered at a brainstorming session in November to organize plans for education and action.


The trash boom trapped trash that flows through the storm water drains. This photo was before the maintenance program.
Meet Trash Free Malden River’s Pow, guardian of the trash boom. Pow will not accept the street litter that pollutes the Malden River.

All these volunteers are learning what I have known for a long time — the Malden River is a beautiful asset for the community.

Here are tips for all of us to consider to help our waterways:

  • Refuse plastics and polystyrene (Styrofoam). Easy first steps include bringing your own reusable shopping bags. Nylon bags fit easily in your life. Usually, a local butcher will wrap meat or fish in wax coated paper and a plastic bag. That plastic bag can be used for containing trash properly disposed.
  • Ask for paper containers for left-overs from restaurants. You can bring your own take home containers.
  •  Use reusable containers for hot drinks. Use reusable bags for shopping vegetables and fruits.
  •  Bring your own utensils and cups to work for meals.
  • Recycle and compost properly. Review your city recycling policies. Plastic bags and polystrene (#6 Styrofoam) are not accepted in curbside recycling pickups.
  • Clean white foam can be deposited inside the Save Your Stuff trailer at the City Yard. There are commercial composting companies that service Malden: Bootstrap Compost and Black Earth Compost.
  • Keep your yard and local street storm water drain clean of all debris, especially trash. Leaves and dirt are also important to remove from the street storm water drains. These clog the drains and impede drainage. They also contain phosphates from inorganic fertilizers and poisons.
  • Avoiding use of inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides also protect our environment from toxins. These toxins are flushed into our waterways via street storm water drains.

Karen Buck is the President of the Friends of the Malden River and a citizen journalist for MATV’s Neighborhood View.


Participants enjoy the “Cruise in a Canoe” event on the Malden River on September 28, 2019

Related articles:

Malden Works receives Norman Leventhal Prize to improve access to the Malden River (10/17/2019)

Cruising and cleaning the Malden River (10/18/2018)

The Malden River finally gets “friended” (11/22/2015)

About karenbuckmalden 16 Articles
Karen Buck is a resident of Malden, an environmental activist and a contributing reporter Neighborhood View. Currently, she is the President of the Friends of the Malden River and the environmental advocate for Malden River Works

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