Prince William County’s first floating trash catcher working in Neabsco Creek

Trying to keep plastic bags and bottles from polluting area waterways is a multipronged effort in Northern Virginia.

With Loudoun County set to vote on a 5-cent tax on disposable plastic bags, joining Fairfax and Arlington counties, and the cities of Alexandria, Fredericksburg, and Roanoke, Prince William County’s first Bandalong trash catcher is floating in the Neabsco Creek.

“Neabsco Creek is one of our major creeks,” says Thomas Smith, director of public works for Prince William County.

“The Bandalong collects floating debris,” said Smith. “It’s got a series of booms that are anchored to the banks of the stream, and it actually floats, based on the water levels.”

The main target? Plastics.

“Particularly your plastic bags, plastic bottles — that’s what we’re trying to catch,” said Smith.

Neabsco Creek
Plastic is collected by the Bandalong, a series of booms anchored to the banks of Neabsco Creek. (Courtesy Prince William Co./Keith Walker)

“The device was installed in November, near Neabsco Regional Park, in the creek which feeds into the Potomac River, and then flows toward Chesapeake Bay.”

The sturdy metal device requires professional installation and costs about $250,000. Micron Technologies, with a location on Godwin Drive in Manassas, donated $300,000 to purchase the Bandalong, and pay for a contractor to remove debris after it’s nabbed by the device.

Traditionally, trash cleanup of waterways has been dependent on volunteer manpower.

“Obviously you have to walk miles of creek to really get a good cleanup,” said Smith. “So, this is going to concentrate all of the debris in one location.”

During the one-year pilot program, Smith said the county will gather information and determine the costs of maintaining the device. “How much material is it going to collect? How often do we need to clean it?”

While Micron’s donation includes paying for a contractor to remove large debris, including tree trunks and branches for one year, Smith said the county would use “good information gathered,” to plan for future removal of debris caught in the Bandalong.

Other jurisdictions using the Bandalong technology include Fairfax County, the District of Columbia, and Prince George’s County, Maryland.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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