Friday, September 9, 2011
A Little Litter Lives a Long Time
Have you ever wondered how a gum wrapper dropped on a street in Fenton, Missouri, ends up in the ocean?
In the town of Fenton, right here in Missouri, there is a creek called Saline Creek that catches the storm water from many of the creeks in town. It runs through many back yards and right behind some commercial buildings and even a school. I used to walk through the creek all the time for fun when I was a little boy.
There goes our gum wrapper--beginning it's trip to the ocean in a drainage ditch that empties into our creek
Amidst all of the rocks and pools of water were countless pieces of trash, among them our innocuous little gum wrapper. Other larger items would include anything from plastic bottles to old mattresses to old exercise machines to lawn mowers and even cars. Yeah, there were lots of cars. Saline Creek empties out into the Meramec River, which is another place one can find a multitude of old tires and pieces of garbage, plus our little gum wrapper. The Meramec drains into the Mississippi. The Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. Well, you get the picture--in the end, most items in Saline Creek will eventually find their way into the ocean.
Saline Creek isn’t the only creek that has waters destined for the great big blue. Most, if not all, creeks do, and many creeks are full of trash.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
In the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Hawaii and San Francisco, California, is a multi million ton swirling, floating pile of trash--mostly plastic—better known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. You can read all about it at www.greatgarbagepatch.org, or if you like mockumentaries you can be entertained and learn about it if you Youtube “the majestic plastic bag.” Reading and seeing these things would be a great follow-up to this blog.
So why am I rambling on about the flow of trash through our waterways? Because, as we speak, wildlife and nature all around us is being choked and poisoned by our mess.
Plastic is a HUGE problem since it never biodegrades. In the oceans it continually breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces and is eaten by fish, birds, mammals and all other types of animals. Fish can detoxify it in their bodies but everyone else is out of luck. Animals have starved because they eat pieces of plastic, thinking it’s food, and then they get nothing out of it. They can’t digest it so it just stays in their bodies. Of course this doesn’t only happen with plastics. At the Grand Canyon National Park people have been dropping (or throwing) quarters onto the rocks by the viewing areas and birds like the California Condors have been eating them. In no way can these quarters be helpful to the condors.
These may seem to be extreme examples, but they are also pretty common occurrences. I hope that by now the point has gotten across that our stray trash is a major problem for nature. So… what are we going to do about it?
We can start by making sure we throw our trash in the trashcans and our recycling gets into the recycling bins. Even more importantly, we can minimize the amount of waste we use. Use re-useable water bottles and dishes. Cut out those paper plates that are so popular. Use small sheets of paper for small memos. Minimizing waste is effective for a lot of reasons—even when we use those trashcans. Often times even when we throw our trash in a trashcan it will fall out somehow, even if it’s already on its way to the trash dump.
Some more pro-active and direct ways of maintaining a clean environment are by physically cleaning up litter-infested areas. There are some great organizations here in Missouri that put together big events dedicated to the clean-up of rivers and parks. Missouri Stream Team is the basis of most of those activities. Check out this website: www.mostreamteam.org. There is also the Missouri “adopt-a-highway” program that you can see signs for along highways throughout Missouri. If you live in another state do an internet search for similar organizations where you live.
Here’s the twist though. I get the feeling that if you’re reading this blog, chances are that you already know about these things and have acted on them before. Acting on these issues is exactly what we need, so thank you! If you are looking into what one can do about litter, I hope you’ve taken what I have said to heart and will start to act now.
Something you can do that’s just as important is share enthusiasm for keeping our environment clean. Get friends involved and make it a good time together. Encourage any youngsters you may have contact with to take care of their environment by disposing of trash in the proper receptacles. The more people that care, the less problems we have.