We all know what it is like to go through spring cleaning. Getting rid of stuff is part of keeping our lives in order. The annual exercise of purging things that clutter our daily lives is normally associated with new beginnings and more room to grow (or acquire more stuff).
However, the process can sometimes lead to illegal dumping and large volumes of trash going to the landfill. Things that could have been diverted to the reuse or recycle markets instead end up in the creek, ditch, or the municipal dump.
This spring, volunteers all over the county have teamed up with The Watershed Project to remove trash from our creeks at multiple locations. So far, more than 250 volunteers have removed over 150 cubic yards of trash from the environment (enough trash to fill FIVE garbage trucks). At one of the creek sites in Bay Point, we removed an astounding 106 tires, a bed, a couch and even a kitchen sink.
On the bright side, other sites that The Watershed Project and volunteers have been cleaning every Earth Day for the last four years showed some signs of improvement. At those sites, the volumes of trash that originated from dumping were significantly smaller, but the trash that comes from littering has remained mostly the same. We know this because we still find as many food wrappers and plastic bags as we did a few years ago.
I want to take the opportunity to thank the volunteers that participated in the spring cleanups around the East Bay, in particular to those that came out for the Willow Creek clean up at Bay Point, Wildcat Creek staging area, Verde Elementary, the Albany Bulb, Miller Knox Regional Park, El Sobrante Library, Fred Jackson Way, Rodeo Creek, and Riverside Creek.
Creek cleanups are the last chance to prevent trash and marine debris from entering the bay and the ocean. But the sad truth is that there really is no “away”. Once trash reaches the ocean, it becomes marine debris and starts its journey into one of the multiple trash gyres that afflict our planet. It’s clear that we are facing a trash pandemic. By cleaning up creeks, we are getting to the root of the problem by recognizing that trash is a water pollutant that is choking our creeks and oceans.
Knowing how to dispose of our unwanted stuff can be an opportunity to do our part to improve water quality. But more importantly, not having so much stuff can be the beginning of real change. Here are five things you can do to help reduce the amounts of trash we make:
1. Buy durable goods, ideally made with natural materials (not plastic) and buy less.
2. Donate your old clothing and usable items to thrift stores or charitable organizations and buy used goods whenever possible. Reusing has a low carbon foot print and gives items a second life.
3. Recycle recyclables and take hazardous waste to the municipal transfer stations and collection centers (this includes old compact fluorescent light bulbs and batteries).
4. Call your City for to find out if you have a free large debris removal day.
5. Volunteer to clean up the creeks and shorelines.
On a related note, I was very moved by a child volunteering at a cleanup who reminded me of the movie WALL-E. This young boy told me that he had come to volunteer because he did not want to have to move to another planet because ours is so trash-filled. We may still have some way to go before we’ll need another planet, but it is very sad to know that our children can envision a waste-covered Earth not far in the future. So let’s celebrate our volunteers’ spring cleaning and act today to ensure a cleaner future.