ST. LOUIS ( -- The effort is now underway to track plastic in the Mississippi River.

"We're trying to figure out ways to keep the plastic from getting there in the first place," said Colin Wellenkamp, Executive Director of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI). 

Saturday, a long list of organizations teamed up in St. Louis to deploy what's called GPS bottle tags in the river. They look a lot like a water bottle with an antenna.   

"These will tell us more about the transport of plastic down the Mississippi River," said researcher Jenna Jambeck. Jambeck has been studying river pollution for decades and has focused her effort on the GPS bottle tags for the past few years.

It's an effort being done in Baton Rouge, St. Louis, and St. Paul, tracking the beginning, middle and end of the Mighty Mississippi.

"We're really excited because this is the first time we have deployed this technology in the United States," said Jambeck.

The GPS bottle tags are just part of the initiative. The other part is a new app, calling on citizens to help track plastic. 

The app is called the Marine Debris Tracker. It's available for free on Apple and Android phones. The idea is for citizens to log the plastic they see along the river. They can describe it or send in a picture. If the citizen tracking the pollution clicks on MRCTI, then the group tracking the GPS bottle tags can also track other plastic debris.  

"You can click into that app and take photos of the plastic waste that you see on the ground and then that will catalogue the location, the type of plastic, how much it is, and if it's legible, whose company is responsible for that plastic," said Wellenkamp. "That will give us a citizen-driven audit of the plastic along the Mississippi River which will enable us to do a lot to control that waste."

The MRCTI is lead by city mayors from cities along the Mississippi River. With this data, the mayors will be able to make decisions on how to crack down on river pollution. 

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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