Residents encouraged to help clean up litter in Albuquerque’s open spaces

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Littering is becoming a bigger problem in Albuquerque’s open space areas, at least according to one city official.

“It’s actually hard to quantify how much litter there is throughout the 30,000 acres that we manage” said Colleen McRoberts, superintendent of the open space division.

She says it’s clear more people are visiting open space areas – likely spurred on from the pandemic – but the amount of trash left in those areas is increasing.

“In an hour, we can easily get 15, huge bags of trash in a lot of our areas. So it definitely is a major problem” McRoberts said.

McRoberts says there’s a long list of places trash is coming from – including arroyo run-off, homeless encampments, illegal dumping, and regular littering. McRoberts admits it’s a challenge for her handful of workers to keep up. The open space areas include miles and miles of trails in the Bosque, the foothills, parts of Petroglyph National Monument and several recreation areas in the East Mountains.

“it’s a very large amount of land that we manage” she said.

McRoberts says while it shouldn’t be everyone’s responsibility to clean up trash found in the wilderness, she’s urging folks if they see something, to do something.

“Even if it’s not your trash, please just take the time to pick it up, because it does make a big difference” she said.

Albuquerque resident Simon Codianni has taken the message to heart for the past 2 years.

“It was just pretty heartbreaking to come down here and see the condition that the Bosque was, was in” he said.

Codianni has been cleaning up trash near the trails behind the National Hispanic Cultural Center for years. He says he’s been visiting that area since he was in high school, and one day, decided he wanted to do something about the increasing amount of garbage.

“I kind of just decided to bring a trash claw and a bucket down and just try to start cleaning up the actual trails” he said.

Codianni says he would clean up the trails while he walked his dogs roughly 5 times a week. That number has since come down after he started grad school and welcomed a baby girl to his family. Codianni says he still tries to clean up the area at least 2-3 times a month.

Codianni says he often find a lot of fast food garbage and drink bottles, but during our interview, he found a condom on the side of the trail. He says he also found a full bug a methamphetamines and discarded furniture before.

Codianni says the most heartbreaking part of his mission is when he returns and finds even more trash than before.

“I never leave trash in an open space. So I don’t understand why you would, because it is just it is lazy, it is disgusting. And it is actually quite dangerous” he said.

Both Codianni and McRoberts are concerned about the impact on the local environment. McRoberts say toxic chemicals found in discarded plastic and styrofoam can end up in the Rio Grande. She also says the litter poses serious issues for the animals that call the Bosque home.

“The wildlife for example, they don’t know who threw it there, nor do they care, but they’re impacted by it” she said.

Codianni believes it’s time for the city to step in and thoroughly clean up the Bosque, but he does admit he doesn’t know how long it would stay clean. Regardless, he’s concerned about the future.

“I’m kind of worried to see where it’s gonna go, because if we don’t get on top of this, this whole area is just gonna look like a dump” he said.

McRoberts says our public lands will look exactly how we treat them.

“It is up to all of us to take care of these lands. It’s not just about, you know, employees doing it, it’s really a collective responsibility” she said.

There are several upcoming cleanup events in Albuquerque.

Imagine ABQ and Albuquerque Fire Rescue are hosting a cleanup event in conjunction with the city on Saturday, Sept. 24.

On Oct. 22, the city’s Solid Waste Department is hosting a “junk jog” through the bosque. It’s also aimed at cleaning up litter.