It’s Not Just One Bottle

Raising Awareness Through Girl Scout Silver Award Project

Chattahoochee Nature Center thrives with the support of volunteers. Many of our amazing volunteers are local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts working toward earning hours and achieving awards. One scout, Elizabeth Williams, approached CNC to earn her Girl Scout Silver Award and proposed a project to help collect trash that accumulates in CNC’s wetlands and bring awareness to the issue.

Scouts work with CNC staff to develop their ideas and execute their plans. Elizabeth has been working in CNC’s wetlands every Saturday, along with her mother and brother, to clean litter out of the wetlands. Mark Gialanella, CNC’s Education Programs Supervisor, has been working with her since early 2023 to support her project and asked her to share some of her experience. It’s not always a pretty picture – working with litter – and it’s an issue that Elizabeth and her brother Gabriel want to help bring to light. Read below on their volunteer experience and challenge yourself to consider the following questions: How do I contribute to this problem, for better or worse? What can I do in my community to help reduce litter? How would our natural spaces be different if we reconsidered our trash?


Below is Elizabeth’s reflection on her project so far. Elizabeth is a 7th-grade student from Marietta, GA.

“Every Saturday, my mom, my brother, and I clean up the litter around the boardwalk area of the nature center. I am doing it as a Girl Scout project, and I somehow managed to convince my mom and brother to help. We often get strange looks, and sometimes people seem suspicious, gracious, or even guilty. However, one thing no one ever does is stop and help.

I don’t think people realize the impact that littering, even once, can have. It is obvious that any trash will pollute the river habitat, and yet we find tons of it. Some of the most common items we find are Styrofoam, plastic water bottles, tennis balls and baseballs. All these are items that can be thrown away on a whim – without much consideration – but litter builds up. While you may rationalize, and say it is only one bottle, so will the next hundred people, and a hundred bottles are now washing up in your local wetland.

Nature nonetheless seems resilient. Although I’ve only been doing this for long enough to see one season change, it was fascinating seeing new wildlife, like turtles and deer, and the tons of blooming flowers. Sometimes even the trash is interesting, like the excess of men’s shoes we find almost every time we go.

What can you do, even if you don’t litter? You can just be more aware of how you dispose of your trash. When eating outside, just make sure nothing is left behind, and nothing blows or rolls away. Make sure you’re disposing trash in trash bins and or trash bags that are secure and don’t have a risk of tipping over or overflowing. Most of this seems obvious, but based on our experience, actually picking up litter is not something people consider. While littering is not socially acceptable, we still have a long way to go towards normalizing trash pickup.”


Elizabeth’s brother, Gabriel, 8, also reflected on his experience supporting his sister’s work.

“One Saturday morning we found a shoe, while volunteering to clean up the boardwalk. The next Saturday morning, we also found a shoe. The next Saturday morning, we found a shoe. Every time my and I go to the CNC we have found at least one shoe. Never from the same pair, though. Where are all these shoes coming from?

There is a lot more surprising trash. For example, we found a gallon jug, but did not find what liquid it used to hold. We talk a lot while we pick up trash, and what we talk most about is perhaps where the trash comes from. Maybe the trash comes from the Chattahoochee River. That is our leading suspicion.

Please be reminded that you will probably not see a shoe if you are on a quick walk. You would need to look closely. Is it a good idea to look closely? Short answer or long answer? I will give you both. Short answer: if you are on a casual walk, do it; if you are picking up trash, do it. Long answer, picking up trash is a nice thing to do. And a lot of people already do it. So yes, going back to the short answer, it is. You might as well look closely.

In conclusion, I say that if you go to the CNC, just enjoy your time there because while no place is litter free, the CNC is almost perfect. Just listen to the birds singing in the spring and see the flowers bloom. Enjoy your time there.”


CNC is grateful for the help of these young volunteers. They help provide a clean, safe habitat for wildlife and an enjoyable, litter-free nature experience for CNC guests. But their work is just the beginning, and there is always more work to be done. We invite you to get involved!

  • Be an informed consumer and shop with litter in mind – choose items that are package-free or are in packaging that can be composted, recycled, or reused.
  • Volunteer to support a local cleanup!
  • Dispose of trash properly; recycle what you can where you can.
  • To talk with others and encourage them to join you in reducing waste.

Doing just one of these things will make a difference. Learn more about actions you can take at Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation. Thank you to Gabriel and Elizabeth for your work at CNC, and thank you to our many volunteers who work to keep CNC’s property looking its best. You can volunteer with CNC, too! Check CNC’s website for volunteer opportunities such as habitat restoration, horticulture support, and much more.