In the aftermath of Earth Day and the loss of snow, I’m reminded of one of my least favorite things in the whole world. Litter. All across the internet I saw videos and pictures and stories of machines and people and projects dedicated to removing trash from places it shouldn’t be. I wondered, if so many people don’t like litter, why is there so much? In my early years, PBS was almost the only place a kid could watch kid shows. Even the boys, when they were little, had PBS as their main tv hangout. So many times the focus would be on litter and trash and recycling. And yet, the problem is worse as time marches on!
I’ve always been aware of tossed garbage. I think I was in 3rd grade when I went on my very first litter patrol with a group. (As I look back, I’m astonished by the memory, all of us kids and not much supervision!) I remember walking up a hill above the school with a huge group. Other kids ran off past the ditches to collect obscure finds. Older ones came back with tires and I recall, a bra. (I remember being so embarrassed! I was a girl and these boys found ‘girl’ underwear!) The most decisive moment in my life of being green happened when I was in the Youth Conservation Corps.
I was in High School on the Kenai Peninsula. Summer jobs were babysitting or working around fish. Mum didn’t want me in a cannery yet (ages of kids working back then weren’t quite as controlled as it is today.) and somehow I got a job with the YCC working in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. I had more fun than I could have ever imagined (I might have written about some of those experiences here before somewhere) and learned a great deal. Lessons of life that stuck hard in the malleable brain of my adolescence. The abhorrence of litter was one of those.
We made trails through the woods, we hauled canoes overland to lakes we paddled across to get to more trails, and we cleaned up after people. We spent weeks in one area refurbishing a campsite that had buildings. I had stayed there in 6th grade and we were back to modernize and tidy it up once more. One weekend a church group had rented it out. One of the guys with us was excited about this, it was his church group and he was looking forward to having them see what he had been doing all summer. We got back to the site after they left and were appalled. All of us were. It was an absolute pigsty. I’ll never forget the anger my friend felt for his thoughtless friends. (It think it was then I realized church didn’t mean someone was necessarily a good person.) We worked hard to clean up after that organization’s visit. Another life changing day was before a major holiday. It was probably the 4th of July. We picked up so much trash on a popular trail we made jokes about the beer cans and diapers. It was horrible. Then, after the incursion of the people, we went back and found more garbage. Nasty.
My boys, being in Scouting, learned to leave no trace. But, as with the church groups, having them wear a uniform of an organization who is supposed to care for the environment doesn’t always mean they will. Thankfully, the people who lead my sons did care and helped hone the skills I forced upon them. In the world of life with me, trash was never improperly discarded. Not even a gum wrapper. We lived in a camping area on the Oregon coast and they boys thrived out there. (I recall once asking my youngest if he ever felt bad cuz we never went anywhere or did anything like Disneyland. He looked at me incredulously and replied, ‘Mom, we lived in a vacation!’) One of our favorite swimming holes we always knew to avoid at certain times of the year, because of the trash left behind and the day we found human feces, toilet paper, and partially burned almost everything on the river bank near one a fishing spot was never to be forgotten. Strider cleaned up a bank site for part of his Eagle project. His group found everything from fishing line to submerged televisions.
I never toss away plastic bottle rings without cutting them apart, I am glad when I see plastic grocery sacks being banned (as handy as those things are, they don’t belong in trees), and I pick up garbage when I find it. It is interesting that sea glass takes decades to turn from trash into treasure, it fascinates me when people discover new ways to use garbage, and I appreciate recycling. It angers me that recycling (at least here on the Kenai) is not as good as it sounds. If I separate my trash and toss it in the proper bin, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be recycled. Often, I was told by an attendant, if a plastic bag full of shredded paper is tossed in with the paper that usually contaminates the whole batch. If the attendant doesn’t remove the bag and discard it, the person collecting the material will, more than likely, deep six the whole mess. There isn’t much money in recycling. Which is sad, we spend a lot as we make messes across our world. You’d think cleaning it up would be easier.