One man’s trash… is still trash when it’s left lying on the ground. Or tossed in the water. Or shoved into storm drains.
It’s called litter, or when it’s a large amount of trash, illegal dumping. Over time this trash accumulates and grows, sometimes in places you might not think of.
A recent New York Times article revealed that a remote South Pacific island, with ZERO HUMANS, has somehow built up more than 17.6 tons of our garbage. That sounds like a lot, but apparently we produce that same amount of plastic (which mostly becomes trash) in less than two seconds. It’s so entrenched that crabs are literally using pieces of plastic as their homes.
How does this happen? It starts on land, when litter is created. Rain washes litter into storm drains which empty directly into the nearest waterway. It doesn’t get filtered or cleaned; there is no trap in these storm drains to remove trash. It’s picked up by currents that eventually feed into a gyre, circling around and around in the ocean. In the case of our tiny crab friends, it’s the South Pacific Gyre. There is also a Pacific Trash Vortex, and Atlantic Trash Vortex, and even one in the Great Lakes.
I don’t have to tell you, enlightened reader, that litter is gross. You have seen the images of trash-stuffed pelicans, endangered sea turtles gobbling plastic bags, and fins threatened by plastic soda rings. What I am here to tell you today is that there are dedicated people spending inordinate amount of time and energy to help protect our fragile environment and its inhabitants (that includes humans) from this totally preventable problem.
Each year on the first Saturday in June, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) hosts Clean the Bay Day. Now in its 29th year, the event draws tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed to gather along its shores, hauling out things like waterlogged containers, old tires, shopping carts, and millions upon millions of cigarette butts. It is not pretty work, but then litter is not pretty.
Recently I got to tag along with CBF hosts Tanner Council, Hampton Roads Grassroots Coordinator, and Chris Moore, Hampton Roads Senior Scientist, who took me on a little jaunt across the Elizabeth River to a teensy island just off of Fort Monroe. From a distance it looks inviting, with a small sandy beach area and lush dune grass. It was less welcoming as we got closer and could start making out the items that have washed ashore. Getting out of the boat one can see that it’s not just washed ashore; these items are embedded – in the sand, in the seagrass, in the muck.
This Saturday folks from Port of Virginia and CSX will converge to help relieve the island of its unwelcome imports, and wonder just how they will be able to extract the trash from the natural debris.
As bleak as that sounds, there is hope. Council says he believes Hampton Roads and its active interest in combating sea level rise could be “ground zero” for education and activism around Chesapeake Bay restoration and protection. And it’s not just at the grassroots level. Council also pointed out that there are more elected officials than ever before, red and blue, coming out in support of the organization’s efforts and the cleanup of our beloved Bay.
You can help too, and not just this Saturday, but every day. It’s the simplest thing, really. See the litter? Pick it up, please. And thank you.
For more info or to sign up, click here.