Today is California Coastal Cleanup day, when people fan out across the state to take garbage out of the state’s waterways and off the state’s beaches. Last year, 1,600,000 pounds of garbage were removed. In a single day. All of that garbage was catalogued, as well, to learn more about the patterns of garbage distribution. And, if you happen to be in California, you can participate! It runs from 9:00 to noon, and you can find a site to drop in at here. So get on your action pants and get going, people!
You don’t even have to be in California to participate, really. You can make today [fill in your home] cleanup day. You can go out alone or organize a group, and you can get your cleanup on. You can make a difference, and in doing so, set a model for other people. Scouring your community for garbage for three hours is not exactly fun, but it’s about something larger than you, or even the garbage. It’s about the collective effort of thousands of people whom you will never meet.
Where does all this garbage come from? It comes from ships, and it comes from the shore. It comes from spills out of shipping containers, and from careless people who toss beer cans away when they’re done drinking. It comes from stores which don’t control the garbage in their parking lots. It comes from overturned garbage cans with trash which gets picked up by the wind and carried to a river, lake, or stream. It comes from manufacturing facilities with improper containment procedures. It comes from careless litterbugs. It comes from you, from that time you were walking down the street and you saw a plastic bag drifting across the sidewalk and you didn’t pick it up and dispose of it. It comes from me, from the time I saw that someone missed the trash can outside of Headlands and I didn’t say anything.
It comes, in short, from our own garbage-filled society.
Garbage in waterways is a serious problem. It can be polluting, damaging the natural environment. It can ensnare wildlife and kill them. It disrupts the delicate balance of the ocean’s ecosystems. It collects in the North Pacific Gyre, covering an area roughly double the size of Texas with garbage. In the open ocean. A giant island of garbage. Smaller organisms eat garbage and are eaten by larger ones, causing it to travel up the food chain. Garbage fouls the fins and flippers and legs of all sorts of animals.
We are literally covering the Earth in garbage, and it’s disgusting. California Coastal Cleanup day is one day, and it’s a good day, because people get together in communities all over the state to get their cleanup on. To take responsibility for some of this garbage and to get it out of the natural environment. But we need a World Cleanup Day. Or maybe a World Cleanup Year. And, we need to rethink our culture and the way we handle garbage. We need to rethink the insatiable appetite for packaged goods which drives the accumulation of garbage all over the world.
We need to make sure that recycling is performed responsibly. We aren’t recycling when we send electronic waste to places like China and India, we’re just passing the pollution. And in those areas, where people attempt to extract valuable components without protection, there’s rampant pollution caused by our discarded hard drives and unwanted monitors. We aren’t recycling if our recycled goods end up in a landfill. We aren’t reducing, the first word in the old “reduce, reuse, recycle” paradigm, if we aren’t thinking about the ways in which we, personally, can reduce the amount of garbage we generate. We aren’t reusing if we toss containers in the recycle bin as soon as they’ve been used once.
What’s wrong with us? Why are we destroying our home? Do we really live in a society so consumed with materialism that we are happy to allow society to eat itself, and to devour the world with it? Is this what we want? Are we ready for the consequences?