Atlanta’s Proctor Creek, like hundreds of urban waterways flowing through cities across the United States, is littered with trash and debris funneled from nearby neighborhoods.

“Many people don’t think about where trash in the street goes,” explains Jon Radtke, director of water sustainability, Coca-Cola North America. “But when it rains, trash is carried into storm drains and ends up in streams like Proctor Creek, which flows into the Chattahoochee River. So street trash ultimately becomes marine debris that threatens aquatic habitats, local water supplies and the overall health of communities.”

To help combat this challenge in its own backyard, Coca-Cola is teaming up with The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), the City of Atlanta, the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Groundwork Atlanta, Park Pride and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 to install trash-catchment systems along the Proctor Creek watershed in southwest Atlanta.

A $50,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation will provide green jobs at Groundwork Atlanta to maintain and manage the systems for one year. 

Four “Litter Gitters” will collect downstream trash using floating booms that guide waste into basket-like, wire-mesh containers. In January, the partners will install a larger, industrial-grade trapper called a Bandalong. Neither system requires nets or fencing, which can harm fish and other wildlife.

Coca-Cola North America provided a $350,000 grant to the NRPA to fund installations at four park sites throughout the Proctor Creek watershed. The traps will intercept about 80% percent of trash that floats down Proctor Creek, Radtke said.

An additional $50,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation will provide “green” jobs at Groundwork Atlanta to maintain and manage the systems for one year. Employees will empty the traps weekly, sorting and separating trash and recyclables. Partners will document and track the types and amount of litter captured to identify trends and assess the effectiveness of the two trap designs.

Jon Radtke, director of water sustainability, Coca-Cola North America, discusses the Litter Gitter project during a recent media event.

“We’re treating this as a pilot,” Radtke said. “We hope to figure out which catchment systems perform best under which conditions, then take our learnings and scale the program not only across Atlanta, but across the country. We’re starting here in our hometown so we can be as hands-on as possible.”

Signage will educate the public about the catchment systems and provide education on how to reduce litter by recycling and disposing of trash. Site visits and volunteer events at the installation sites will involve the local community.

Plastic bottles collected in Proctor Creek will be recycled and repurposed into high school graduation gowns for the Atlanta Public Schools class of 2020. Throughout the spring and summer, Coca-Cola hosted recycling collection events at its headquarters and at major venues in Atlanta to collect bottles to be recycled and repurposed into the gowns.

“Through these litter catchment systems, we hope to not only reduce pollution in our local waterways but also show how recycling can benefit the local community,” explained Caren Pasquale Seckler, VP, social commitment, Coca-Cola North America.

In January, the partners will install a larger trapper called a Bandalong. Collectively, the five systems will intercept about 80% percent of trash that floats down Proctor Creek.

The project supports The Coca-Cola Company’s global World Without Waste goal to recycle and reuse the equivalent of 100 percent of the bottles and cans it sells by 2030.

It also builds on a multi-year partnership between Coca-Cola and Proctor Creek, which is located just a short distance from its global headquarters. Previously, the company has funded work to collect stormwater, store it underground and slowly release it to prevent flooding in the watershed’s 35 surrounding neighborhoods.

The nine-mile tributary of the Chattahoochee River flows, often unseen, through residential, industrial, commercial and park land. Proctor Creek sits in a highly urban area approximately 60,000 Atlantans – many of whom live below the federal poverty line – call home.

“Our neighbors in the Proctor Creek area deserve to have and enjoy a clean watershed as a natural amenity,” Radtke concluded. “Whenever you start to clean things up, the community takes pride in it and it becomes almost self-sustaining. So there are lot of great reasons to do this.”