Green Life Project is a weekly series of posts highlighting one change for readers to make in their life in order to gradually green their lives.
This week’s Green Life Project action item is to pick up one piece of litter each day.
Oh, and after this week, continue the good habit.
Simple? Yes! Easy? Maybe not for all of us.
Picking up a piece of litter (or many pieces) was something taught to me by my parents, and even more so, that littering itself was, “bad.” My dad used to take a bucket to pick up litter along the road of our very rural property, which always included beer bottles, food wrappers, and cigarettes.
But over the last few years, I have rarely picked up litter, my squeamishness about “dirty” garbage getting the better of me. I also feel watchful eyes on me, as if it’s something to be embarrassed about. I’ve gotten over both of these and have begun to pick up the errant bottle or plastic bag here and there and either recycle, or, at the very least, throw it into the garbage. Some days I miss, and some days I pick up several pieces to make up the difference.
I realize that while this is a simple act, for many possible reasons, it may not be that, “easy” for all of us to perform. For the vast majority of us, I consider them excuses to be overcome, and let me from here explain why picking up a piece of garbage everyday can make for a much cleaner planet. I realize we will all miss days — I know I have — but try to do one per day and I know that you’ll often double up on other days.
Why picking up litter can have a huge impact
Have you heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch yet? It’s made of plastic and other debris and is estimated to be twice the surface area of Texas?
That’s right, a giant swirling mash of plastic garbage from places far away, all making their way to sea and eventually convening where biodegradable items, like driftwood, used to gather. I’m in Chicago, and even my garbage, if thrown on the street, could potentially end up in Lake Michigan, the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, and eventually the ocean. And what if it doesn’t make it? Still, it’s polluting the soil or other waterways.
Yes, we are working toward using less packaging, ones that biodegrade, and ways to recycle those that don’t. But the sheer number of pieces and volume of garbage ending up not only on our land, in our rivers, lakes, and ponds, but also the ocean, is scary for more than one reason, including fish and birds being killed when they eat it.
So what difference can you make? Remove a piece a day and you helped clean up 365 pieces of garbage that otherwise would be polluting our land and water. Get every American to do it and you have 300,000,000 people each removing 365 pieces of garbage from our land and water, much of which would inevitably make its way to the garbage patch.
That’s right 109.5 billion! That’s the number of pieces of garbage, including not only plastic, but glass bottles, cans, cigarettes (which have filters made of plastic), paper, and cardboard that won’t be on the streets, fields, forests, waters, and oceans if we were to get all of us to pitch in and clean up litter. Yes, whether we do more to educate others about litter or we clean it up, we’re cutting that pollution off near its source.
Last year, I participated in a beach cleanup in Chicago and it was just fascinating to see how much litter still makes its way into our ecosystems. It’s up to you and I to pick up that grocery bag blowing down the sidewalk so that it doesn’t end up in our waterways! Yes, we all will miss days, but if we look for opportunities, we might be able to really make a difference!
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