Working together to improve the water quality in our rivers and streams

Kentucky’s rivers and streams provide abundant habitat for aquatic life, numerous opportunities for recreation, scenic beauty and a source of drinking water for our communities. Across our state, small streams flow directly into larger bodies of water. These streams, rivers and lakes provide us with more than 100 different species of fish and other aquatic life.

But many of Kentucky’s streams and rivers are polluted, are not safe for swimming or fishing, and do not provide a suitable environment for sensitive aquatic species. Water pollution is primarily caused by human activity—wastewater, chemicals, trash and soil can run off the land and end up in our waterways.

(Click for larger view)

A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. Watersheds cross local, county, state and national boundaries. In the United States, 2,267 watersheds spread across millions of square miles. On a large scale, a river basin is the land area that is drained by a river and its tributaries—there are many watersheds within river basins.

The state of Kentucky is comprised of 12 river basins within its approximate 24 million acres: Big Sandy, Green, Kentucky, Licking, Little Sandy, Lower Cumberland, Mississippi, Salt, Tennessee, Tradewater, Tygarts and Upper Cumberland. Within the 12 river basins in Kentucky, smaller subbasins exist. Central Kentucky includes the Lower Kentucky River subbasin, which spans portions of 25 counties.

The Dix River is part of the Lower Kentucky River subbasin and is highly polluted. This river and its tributaries have been found to have elevated levels of E.coli, a pathogen that can cause gastroenteritis and other health complications in humans. Some areas of the watershed have exceptionally high levels of E.coli that make streams unsafe for fishing, swimming, wading, and other kinds of water recreation. Sites recently sampled averaged at least four times the limit for E. coli. While livestock farms contribute to E.coli contamination in rural streams, extensive water testing and analysis has shown that contamination in the Dix River watershed is primarily from human waste sources, likely from failing septic systems and straight pipes.

Dix River Watershed (Click for larger view)

To help improve water quality in the Dix River watershed, Bluegrass Greensource offers homeowner workshops in Boyle, Garrard and Lincoln counties. Participants will learn about local watersheds and water quality, how to properly care for septic systems, and how to identify problems with septic systems.

Following each workshop, participants can apply for a cost-share grant for septic system repairs or for a free septic tank pumpout. To be eligible for the grants, homeowners must reside within the Dix River watershed in Boyle, Garrard or Lincoln counties. The next free septic system workshops will be held in October in Garrard, Lincoln and Boyle counties. Visit this fall for additional information.

This program is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under section 319(h) of the Clean Water Act, through the Kentucky Division of Water.
Bridget Abernathy Photo

Bridget Abernathy is an outreach specialist at Bluegrass Greensource, focusing on the Live Green Lexington Partners Program and the Dix River Watershed Septic Assistance Program. Before joining Bluegrass Greensource, she worked in the Stewardship Program with Kentucky Division of Forestry. Bridget received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky.

This article appeared in KY Forward on August 6, 2015.


Rising demands of energy mean conservation is as important as ever

The majority of students in Central Kentucky, as well as their teachers and parents, have little practical knowledge about energy production in the state or the impact that energy production has on our culture, economy, and natural resources. With funding provided by the Department for Energy Development and Independence, Bluegrass Greensource environmental educators are able to provide this much-needed exposure in the classroom and at family science fairs.

As future leaders, today’s students need to be knowledgeable so they can make informed decisions in their lives today and in the future. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to continue educating Kentucky’s students about our energy sources, teaching both the positive and negative aspects of using coal and alternative energy sources.

Through a series of experiential classroom activities, each aligned to Kentucky’s Core Academic Standards, students learn about coal and its role in the economies of Kentucky and the nation; the historical and cultural aspects of coal production; and the environmental challenges related to the production and use of coal. These energy-related activities also enable students to explore the feasibility of alternative energy resources and their role in meeting the energy needs of Kentucky and the nation.

Furthermore, students learn early on the importance of conserving and being more energy efficient as a way to offset the rising demands of energy in Kentucky.

The following 10 energy conservation tips can help cut household energy costs this summer and ensure affordable and accessible energy resources for future generations:

1. When you leave your house, set the air conditioner’s thermostat to 85 degrees. When you return, lower the thermostat to a comfortable level. We recommend 78 degrees. Also, keep inside air vents clear from furniture and other objects.

2. Schedule regular service checks for your air conditioner unit. We recommend at least once a year. Replace filters when they start to get dirty. Changing filters regularly ensures your system is operating effectively and efficiently.

3. To minimize heat indoors, avoid heat-generating appliances during the day such as the clothes dryer, dishwasher and oven. When possible, let your clothes and dishes air dry and cook on an outdoor grill. We recommend avoiding the use of these major appliances between the hours of 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

4. Set your water heater no higher than 120°F.

5. To cool your home without using energy, close the windows and blinds during the day and open them at night (make sure the A/C isn’t set lower than the outside temperature).

6. Invest in low-cost, high-efficiency fans to help your home stay cooler.

7. Set your washing machine to its cold water setting and clean the lint filter in the dryer after every use.

8. Make trips in and out of the refrigerator/freezer as quickly as possible. Never leave the door open while unpacking groceries or while deciding what to eat.

9. Unplug appliances and electronics when not in use. Plug home electronics, such as TVs, DVD players and computers into power strips and turn off power strips when not in use.

10. If you have a pool: Slowly reduce pool filtration time by 30-minute increments daily. You may only need to run your pool filter six hours a day. Install a timer to control the length of the pool pump cycle.

I encourage parents to share energy bills with their children. Together you can work on reducing your household’s energy consumption and save money at the same time. Children can do their part by turning the light off in their room when they leave, taking shorter showers, and turning devices off when not in use. Set a reasonable goal for your family’s energy reduction. Celebrate the amount of money you’ve saved that month by going out for pizza or ice cream, or by putting it in a vacation fund jar.

To further your understanding about Kentucky’s energy sources and to stay current on energy research and development, visit DEDI’s website.
emily casey

Emily Casey is an environmental educator at Bluegrass Greensource. She works primarily with elementary and middle school students. She has a bachelor’s education and environmental studies from the University of Vermont. Casey spends her free time exploring Lexington and spending time outdoors around the beautiful Bluegrass Region she now calls home.

This article appeared in KY Forward on July 30, 2015.


Underserved community gets a little environmental help from its friends

You might have heard of the Night Market, a monthly first-Friday staple of food, entertainment and shopping at the corner of North Limestone and Loudon Avenue in Lexington. You might be less familiar with the nonprofit community development corporation behind the market.

The North Limestone Community Development Corporation, or NoLi CDC, is a nonprofit organization providing a range of economic development services to this underserved community. Its projects range from programmatic elements, such as the Night Market, to infrastructural and cultural elements, such as the redevelopment of a series of row houses.

One of the more recent initiatives of NoLi CDC involves environmental remediation issues. The CDC partnered with neighborhood and community organizations such as Bluegrass Greensource, Town Branch Tree Experts and EcoGro to develop a comprehensive stormwater management and education program, which was awarded a Stormwater Incentive Grant.

“The breadth and scope of this grant is made possible by the community partnerships involved,” says Richard Young, director of the CDC. “The five different environmental strategies this grant uses – rain gardens, rain barrels, street trees, community gardens and litter cleanups – highlight the diverse specialties of our neighbors.”

All the components of this grant from Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government are intended to address issues of stormwater quantity and quality in the neighborhood. Much of the neighborhood lacks a storm sewer system because it was originally developed outside city limits. This has led to problems of flooding and poor water quality, as swift flows pick up litter and debris and carry it to Cane Run, a federally listed impaired stream that originates in North Lexington and eventually provides much of the drinking water for Georgetown.

Bluegrass Greensource has been an integral part of both the rain barrel workshops and the litter cleanups. The first series of workshops distributed over 25 rain barrels to neighborhood residents. The first litter cleanup removed over 300 pounds of trash and recyclables from the ground in the neighborhood, helping to improve the quality of water in both the Town Branch and Cane Run streams.

Town Branch Tree Experts provided the equipment and expertise needed to install over 100 street trees in June. These trees were available free of charge to residents of North Limestone and the Castlewood and Martin Luther King neighborhoods. These street trees will help absorb and filter stormwater and will add to the aesthetic appeal of the neighborhood overall.

Ecological restoration experts EcoGro will design and install the rain gardens in Castlewood Park, and construction is scheduled to begin later in the fall. These rain gardens will help reduce flooding in the area by storing stormwater and letting it percolate into the soil slowly following rain events. Native plants in the garden will provide supportive habitat for monarch butterflies, bees, and other species of concern.

The next litter cleanup is scheduled for Aug. 2 at 10 a.m. Information on location will be announced on the Bluegrass Greensource website and Facebook page, as well as the NoLi CDC website.

Registration for the next rain barrel workshop will be available on the NoLi CDC. Pre-registration is required, and slots will fill fast. Any resident of the North Limestone, Castlewood or Martin Luther King neighborhoods is eligible.

Schuyler Warren is an outreach specialist for Bluegrass Greensource, focusing on participation in the LiveGreenLexington initiative by businesses in the city core. A native of the Bluegrass Region, he received a master’s in community and regional planning and in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon. He is a board member for Town Branch Trail and Castlewood Neighborhood Association.

This article appeared in KY Forward on July 22, 2015.


Tour showcases the beauty, benefits of Central Kentucky rain gardens

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A rain garden is a shallow depression that captures runoff from impervious surfaces, such as rooftops, patios, driveways and parking lots, before it enters the storm water system. A rain garden uses natural processes to improve water quality by filtering pollutants and reducing the amount of storm water runoff. The water easily infiltrates into the soil because of the deep roots of the native plants and recharges the groundwater supply.

Rain gardens:

  • Significantly filter and reduce runoff before it enters local waterways and groundwater
  • Decrease drainage problems and localized flooding
  • Conserve water and reduce pollution
  • Attract pollinators such as birds, bees, and butterflies, and provide habitat for other wildlife
  • Recharge the groundwater supply
  • Enhance the beauty of yards and communities

Over the past two years, Bluegrass Greensource has held a series of workshops to provide Central Kentucky homeowners with the grants and guidance needed to install rain garden at their homes. These workshops educate homeowners about what they can do to help prevent stormwater issues at home and in their communities.

Bluegrass Greensource invites you to attend the ninth annual Rain Garden Tour series this July. The tours are a culmination of recent efforts to promote the use of rain gardens in Central Kentucky, and will showcase how rain gardens can be an attractive addition to your yard and help improve water quality.

The tours will be held on:

  • July 10 in Midway from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., starting at Midway Christian Church
  • July 11 in Berea from 1-4 p.m., starting at Union Church
  • July 12 in Georgetown from 1-4 p.m., starting at Scott County Public Library

Tour participants will view a variety of beautiful, established rain gardens varying in size, and design. They will also learn how to design and construct a rain garden of their own. Residents of Scott, Woodford, Bourbon, Clark, Jessamine and Madison counties will be eligible for a $250 reimbursement grant upon completion of a tour.

For additional details about rain gardens or the tour, visit our rain gardens page.


Kara Sayles is an environmental educator at Bluegrass Greensource, focusing on middle and high school grade levels. In addition, she serves the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance as rain garden project coordinator. Kara holds a bachelor’s degreefrom The Evergreen State College. She also received an associate’s degree from Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

This article appeared in KY Forward on July 1, 2015.


Make your cookouts and picnics environmentally friendly with these changes

Warm weather is here after what seemed like an unending winter. It’s time for cookouts, picnics, and even camping for many people. All of these activities involve cooking in the great outdoors. Picnics and cookouts can produce a lot of waste. How do we enjoy it while being gentle on the environment? These five simple changes can greatly reduce your impact on the environment.

1. Plan your menu with local foods in mind. If you aren’t able to grow your own food, visit the farmer’s market for vegetables and fruit. Your food will be fresher and you will be supporting a local farmer. Choose locally grown, sustainable meat options. Or, if you don’t fear a revolt, go meat free.

2. Choose a destination nearby. Are there picnic spots you can walk or bike to? Using public transportation can be an adventure. Explore your town. You may find a new location that you love.

3. Switch to reusables. Paper plates and napkins, disposable plastic ware and cups all end up in a landfill. Invest in a set of reusable plates, forks, and cups to reduce landfill bound waste. Towels and washcloths can be used for cleanup. Cloth napkins and tablecloths round out your zero waste event.

2. Recycle. Cold drinks are a must on hot summer days. Fill a water cooler with ice water and drink from reusable cups for a minimal impact. If canned or bottled drinks are a crowd favorite, provide a container for easy collection of empty drinks and recycle them with your local facility.

3. Compost. If disposables are a must for your event choose biodegradable table ware. These items can be composted in a large scale facility. Provide a container for compostable food waste. Most fruit and vegetables can be composted in a home vermicompost bin or in a backyard compost bin. The material produced is great for the lawn and garden.

4. Sustainable cooking – gas or charcoal? The merits and detrimental effects of each are debatable. But when cooking at a park or other natural setting charcoal or wood grills are the norm. And most people would agree that charcoal grilling adds flavor to food. If charcoal is your choice, use lump charcoal and a charcoal chimney to reduce the impact on air quality. Inexpensive solar ovens can be used for foods that only need heating. Solar oven s’mores are a delicious dessert.

5. Pack up leftovers and waste materials. Bring an extra container for waste that must be thrown away. Leftover food in trash cans is tempting to animals and can become litter if animals rummage through the can. Pack it up and take it with you when you leave. Skip disposable plastic storage bags and plastic wrap when storing leftovers. Opt for reusable containers instead. Not that there will be many leftovers when serving fresh, locally grown choices.

Bon Appetit.

1 Pattie-Stivender

Pattie Stivender is the education outreach and volunteer coordinator for Bluegrass Greensource.




This article appeared in KY Forward on June 4, 2015.


GreenFest gives attendees new green ideas, offers food, music, more

Did you ever want to learn about keeping chickens or bees in your backyard? What about whether or not solar panels would work in Lexington, or on your house, or how to have a “green” lawn?

Bluegrass Greensource is excited to announce our first annual sustainability fair called GreenFest on May 23 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. We expect the event to attract 200 – 300 people throughout the day, and have Red State BBQ and West Sixth Beer as well as live music and a DJ to give it that festival atmosphere.

Since 2001, Bluegrass Greensource has provided resources to the citizens and students in Central Kentucky, but this will be the first time we are offering a sampling of workshops on a variety of topics all in one setting. Each of the workshops will give the participants enough information to ease their curiosity or give them enough information to figure out if the subject might work for them, and the tools to find out more information.

We are also excited to announce that we will be serving beer from West Sixth, and Ale 8-1, as well as have Red State BBQ on hand for lunch and a live band and DJ all day long. And, no Bluegrass Greensource event would be complete without kids activities that allow kids of all ages to play games while actually learning about our environment.

To round out the event, we will have vendors to peruse where you can learn about local environmental efforts or buy recycled clothes from local entrepreneurs. I am very excited about the event, and I hope that all of you who read this will come out and find something of interest.

GreenFest will be in the parking lot of our new building at 835 National Avenue in Lexington. We would love to show you around our “green” office with a Big Ass Fan, walls painted with recycled paint and reused furniture from ReStore! GreenFest will be on May 23rd from 10-4 rain or shine (don’t worry – we have two big tents to keep us dry if it rains).

A full workshop schedule is below.

10 a.m. Recycling 101 with Lauren
10:30 a.m. Tree Care with Bridget
11 a.m. Sustainable Lawn Care with Dan
11:30 a.m. Beekeeping with John
12 p.m. Tiny Homes with Christine and Candice
12:30 p.m. Solar Power with Jamie
1 p.m. Backyard Chickens with Link
1:30 p.m. Energy Efficiency with Jamie
2 p.m. Rain Gardens with Kara
2:30 p.m. Composting with Schuyler
3 p.m. Rain Barrel Workshop with Amy

1 Amy-Sohner

Amy Sohner is executive director of Greensource and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with Greensource since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, two daughters and a multitude of pets.

This article appeared in KY Forward on May 14, 2015.


Where does your water shed? Find out, then do your part to keep it clean

Several years ago while attending a conference, I chose a session on “Rain Gardens.” As a horticulturist with a penchant for native and heirloom plants, I found the concept intriguing.

To my surprise, the presenter started out by asking if we could identify our watershed. “My what?” This led into an unexpected but undeniably interesting talk about storm water runoff, storm drains emptying directly into our streams, and “best management practices” for handling this runoff – finally, we were talking about rain gardens!

Little did I realize that a few years later I would be planning watershed festivals in four nearby counties, and using an Enviroscape portable, interactive model as an educational tool in classrooms throughout Central and Eastern Kentucky. Now I am the one asking students “So where does your water shed?”

Now I know that a watershed is the land area that drains (or sheds) rainwater runoff into a common water body (and that land use within that area affects the quality of the water). In Kentucky, with our Karst topography, this affects both surface and underground water.

Ironically, when using the watershed Enviroscape, the kids’ favorite part of the demonstration is watching the water with red food coloring pour out of the factory and into the stream (indicating “point source” pollution). But, as educators, we focus more on “nonpoint source,” or “runoff,” pollutants that are carried in rainwater runoff, and what we, as conscientious citizens, can do to prevent that pollution.

The easiest of all these “best management” practices is: Don’t litter. Take personal responsibility, recycle and make sure that your bins have secure lids.

Next, use fertilizers and pesticides sparingly, opting for composting yard and kitchen waste and choosing other ways of deterring pests, like companion planting. Install a rain garden to capture runoff in your yard and/or a rain barrel to catch rooftop runoff and conserve water.

Plant native flowers, grasses and trees, with deep roots, to prevent erosion and reduce topical watering. This is especially important near waterways, creating a “riparian” buffer to filter out pollutants.

Pick up after your pets, and if you farm, keep livestock out of the streams to prevent erosion and large amounts of waste from entering our watershed.

Maintain your septic system to prevent human waste from entering our streams. Maintain vehicles to prevent leakage of oil, gas and other fluids. And remember, our storm drains lead directly into our streams, so don’t sweep any contaminants into the street or down storm drains.

I participate in volunteer water sampling for Kentucky River Watershed Watch in my local watershed, the Mock’s Branch/Spears Creek sub-watershed of the Dix River. I find that identifying my watershed and participating in testing gives me a personal investment in the quality of the water that flows behind my home.

Bluegrass Greensource is partnering with two Central Kentucky Earth Day Festivals that focus on our watersheds this month: The Garrard and Lincoln County Earth Day Festival at Garrard County High School, held last Saturday in Lancaster; and the Boyle Co. Earth Day Festival at Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus in Danville on Saturday, April 25, from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Bluegrass Greensource will also participate in a Cane Run Watershed Celebration at Night Market in Lexington in May 1, and a Kentucky River Watershed Festival to be held at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill on Sept. 5. Come on out and join us!

1 deborah-larkin-1

Deborah Larkin joined Greensource in 2010 as an environmental educator. She works with numerous schools in Fayette County as part of Greensource’s partnership with LFUCG and is responsible for outreach activities in Boyle, Clark, Garrard and Lincoln counties. She received her bachelor’s in horticulture from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to Greensource, Larkin worked for 27 years at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, near Harrodsburg, where she researched and re-established the 19th century apple orchard, herb garden and heirloom seed industry.

This article appeared in KY Forward on April 23, 2015.


Rain gardens go with the flow, helping reduce runoff, improve water quality

As spring shapes up here in Central Kentucky, early flowers are in bloom and trees are starting to bud. For many of us, this sparks an interest in gardening.

One gardening option to consider this year is a rain garden. If you have water issues or just want to enhance your landscape, rerouting stormwater from impervious surfaces around your home into an eco-conscious rain garden.

A rain garden is a garden planted in a shallow depression in the path of stormwater. It allows the water to infiltrate the ground as close to its natural path as possible. One of the most important things to remember when considering a residential rain garden is that it is a garden—plain and simple.

Layout and plant selection are key features in a rain garden, just as in any other garden. Once your site, size and shape are determined, focusing on flowers and other plants is important in making the rain garden an attractive landscape feature for years to come.

There is not a specific model to follow in creating a rain garden. If you have done any gardening at all, you know that the basic recipe for success is preparing the soil and placing the plants in conditions where they will thrive.

Rain garden plants should tolerate standing water for brief intervals, as well a drought conditions. One way to keep a rain garden attractive all year is to make sure the different varieties of flowering plants bloom at different times. Also, adding a variety of heights and textures of plants to your garden will create a sense of depth and visual appeal.

Another consideration for your rain garden is adding garden accessories such as rock or garden benches. This can help incorporate the rain garden into your existing landscaping, as well as give you a nice place to sit and enjoy nature.

If you would like more information about constructing a rain garden, Bluegrass Greensource is offering residential rain garden presentations in Central Kentucky (see below). For more information, check out our rain garden webpage.

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Kara Sayles is an environmental educator, focusing on middle and high School grade levels. In addition, she serves the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance as rain garden project coordinator. Kara holds a bachelor’s degree with a focus on Ecological Design and Sustainable Agriculture from The Evergreen State College. She also received an associate’s degree in Environmental Technology at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

This article appeared in KY Forward on April 9, 2015.


Community cleanups across the Bluegrass need everyone to pitch in

Lawrenceburg's Main Street Clean Sweep crew (Photo provided)As the region’s beautiful scenery springs to life, Bluegrass Greensource volunteers will be working with communities to create a clean, healthy environment for residents and visitors. And we want you to join us.

There are plenty of opportunities for you, your family and community groups to volunteer to benefit our environment this spring. Take advantage of the beautiful weather and get out with your family or community group to pitch in to make the Bluegrass a better, healthier place to live and visit.

April Volunteer Opportunities:

4/11: Reforest the Bluegrass, throughout region
4/17: Downtown Trash Bash, Lexington
4/18: Garrard County Watershed Festival, Garrard County
4/22: Main Street Clean Sweep, throughout region
4/25: Boyle County Watershed Festival, Boyle County
4/25: Arbor Day at the Arboretum, Lexington

If you or your group or organization are looking for a fun Earth Day project – Main Street Clean Sweep is for you Main Street Clean Sweep is a community-led litter clean-up coordinated by Bluegrass Greensource (sponsored by PNC Bank and Republic Services). Last year Main Street Clean Sweep had more than 400 participants from counties and collected 286 bags of trash. This year 17 communities have committed to participating, and we hope to have over 1,000 participants across 12 counties. Supplied with trash bags, volunteers will clean up 17 communities around the Bluegrass. The more volunteers we have – the more miles we can cover.

Cleanups are planned in Burgin, Cynthiana, Frankfort, Georgetown, Harrodsburg, Irvine, Lancaster, Midway, Nicholasville, Paris, Richmond, Sadieville, Stamping Ground, Stanford, Versailles, Wilmore, and Winchester from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., rain or shine. On April 22, you can pick up your trash bags, gloves, t-shirts (adults who pre-register) and stickers (kids) at local kick-off locations. Individuals and business are encouraged to clean designated areas in their communities.

For more information about Main Street Clean Sweep or any volunteer opportunities, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Ashley Bryant Cheney, at To register for Main Street Clean Sweep, click here or call 859-266-1572.

Ashley photo

Ashley Bryant Cheney is the green jobs coordinator for Bluegrass Greensource, connecting green businesses with a young workforce and preparing students for green careers in the Bluegrass. From Knoxville, she’s worked in volunteer and program management at various nonprofits. She has a bachelor’s in osychology from Carson-Newman University and a master’s in urban studies and community development from Eastern University.

This article appeared in KY Forward on April 2, 2015.


Litter begets litter, meaning until we stop it we have to keep cleaning it up

Today I had sushi for lunch – in my car. Who does that?

I guess it is not as bad as eating a gourmet filet mignon, but the car is not exactly the best place for sushi. A fast food burger or burrito maybe, but nothing that gets dipped in a wonderful mixture of soy sauce and wasabi and is eaten with chop sticks.

I decided on sushi from a grocery store to choose something that would be a healthier between-meetings lunch than fast food. The problem was less in the act of eating, since I managed to not spill anything, but in throwing it away afterward.

 caption Bluegrass Greensource is planning its second annual Main Street Clean Sweep and will be working with 17 Central Kentucky communities, such as Winchester, to clean up litter in their downtowns.

Let me preface this by saying that it is almost impossible to eat a waste-free lunch on the go. A Chipotle burrito comes closest because the aluminum wrap can often be recycled, along with the paper bag it comes in. But they are so good I eat the whole thing, which usually has enough calories to last the whole day.

The biggest problem with eating the sushi in the car was not just the packaging but also the leftover liquid from the soy sauce/wasabi mixture. Don’t get me wrong, my car is nowhere near pristine. I have two young kids, and I believe that I get a pass on worrying about keeping it clean until they are at least 18. But I do draw the line at anything liquid other than water so I wanted to find a way to dispose of my trash before the pungent mix leaked or spilled on my upholstery.

That is where I found the problem: There are very few easily accessible public trash cans. I know that the obvious choice for public trash cans is at a gas station, that is where I usually throw away all of the lollypop sticks, baby wipes and other things that end up in my floor board. Today, however, there were very few gas stations on my side of the road. There were a lot of restaurants and fast food places, car washes and drug stores, but none of which had a trash can that I could find without going into the establishment.

I finally found a trash can on the sidewalk, near the entrance of a McDonald’s. It was quite a relief to be rid of the soy sauce smell, but my struggle to find a trash can made me think a lot about litter.

Now that all of the snow we had this winter is gone (hopefully!), all I can see is litter. I have not noticed sushi containers but just about everything else that is consumable is on the side of the road. I have no idea why people do this. Some litter can be attributed to stupid people who think that litter fairies take the trash out of the back of their pickup truck instead of the wind, or overflowing trash/recycling cans or maybe even the waste hauling trucks themselves, but most of it is caused by stupid people who just don’t care.

The only type of litter that is thrown by ignorance rather than indifference is the cigarette butt. I have known many people in my life who would never throw a soda can out the window but think nothing of flicking their butts. Often, people think that cigarette butts are either too small to count or biodegrade fast enough to not matter. But looking down at almost any intersection will tell you otherwise.

National studies have shown that litter begets litter. Once the first beer can has been thrown down, the other 100 pieces come easily. So often, our first form of defense is cleanups. Many communities do this all year long with inmates, road crews or volunteers.

Bluegrass Greensource is planning its second annual Main Street Clean Sweep and will be working with 17 communities in Central Kentucky to clean up litter in their downtowns. On Earth Day (April 22), we expect more than 1,000 volunteers to pick up more than 1,000 bags of trash between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Last year we worked with seven communities and had more than 400 people volunteer, but the excitement about a concentrated effort has allowed the program to grow to unprecedented levels. Click here to find out if your city is participating and to sign up to help.

There is an Instagram account called “Litterati,” which is dedicated to taking pictures of litter nationwide. I like the play on the traditional use of the word meaning “the educated class.” I feel that the only way to stop all litter is to find ways to educate our kids about the effects of litter on our local economy and environment.

And between now, and when they are ruling the world, clean up after the stupid people.

1 Amy-Sohner

Amy Sohner is executive director of Greensource and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with Greensource since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, two daughters and a multitude of pets.

This article appeared in KY Forward on March 26, 2015.