Iowa Project AWARE remains dedicated to cleaning up waterways

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IOWA — Despite our efforts to contain it, garbage pollution remains a huge problem in Iowa. That’s why a group is dedicated to cleaning up Iowa’s waterways.

Iowa Project AWARE was started almost two decades ago. It has grown from three dozen volunteers to more than 300 volunteers in the years since. AWARE stands for A Watershed Awareness River Expedition. Every year between the Fourth of July and RAGBRAI, Project AWARE sets out to clean one of Iowa’s many rivers.

On Monday, volunteers started their expedition along the North Raccoon River south of Jefferson.

“Project AWARE is all about awareness of Iowa’s waters, awareness of your environment, watersheds, and taking care of the resources that we have here locally,” said Seth Zimmermann.

Each year, the group gathers approximately 30 tons of garbage over the course of a week, but not all of it belongs in the trash. More than 75% of everything collected is recyclable. From plastic and glass to metal and rubber, volunteers have seen some interesting things. 

“We brought in a three-quarter size freezer today, a couple of tires, a vacuum cleaner,” said Keith Garrett, a 15-year veteran of Project AWARE.

Garrett and first-year volunteer Marcus Miller say it is the people who truly make the experience special. “Being on the river with your friends just picking up trash and canoeing on the river, that is the best part,” said Miller.

As the number of participants grows, the cleaner Iowa’s waterways will be for people to enjoy in the future. “The more you connect people to their rivers, the more likely they are to protect them,” said Zimmermann.

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