Dr. Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres, an organization dedicated to researching ocean plastic pollution, has said, “If you want to clean the gyre, clean your beach.” He meant it literally, since “if we stop adding more plastic to the ocean, in time the gyres will kick out the plastic pollution they currently hold.” But I choose to think of the statement metaphorically. Spending a morning cleaning plastic from a beach or river bank or roadway doesn’t just remove a fraction of plastic trash from the environment, it heightens our personal awareness of the problem and gets us in touch with the physical reality of plastic pollution — both beautiful and terrible. We understand how vast the problem is compared to our tiny efforts at mitigation. Sure, we might feel overwhelmed. But hopefully, the exercise can our revitalize our commitment to reducing plastic at the source.
Yesterday Morning at Damon Slough
If I want to see plastic pollution, I don’t have to travel all the way to Midway Island or even up the coast to Kehoe Beach. I can just jump on BART and ride a few miles south to Oakland’s Damon Slough, one of Save the Bay’s Top Five Trash Hot Spots year after year, which is what I did yesterday morning with other members of Green Sangha. Armed with a pair of hemp gardening gloves (to avoid the disposable plastic gloves I knew would be provided to us by the park service) and my good intentions, I set off down the shoreline to pick up trash — and take a lot of pictures. (Click on pictures to see larger versions.)
From a distance, the area looks pretty clean, right?
Until you look closely at your feet and notice how plastic has infiltrated seaweed so closely that it’s hard to tell anymore what is natural and what is man made.
Signs of what humans have done naturally for millennia, preserved in plastic.
The evidence of how we both enjoy and destroy ourselves.
Plastic straws camouflaged to match the surrounding sticks. I’m both amazed and aghast.
No plastic here?
Not so fast!
What about here?
Look more closely…
Turn over handfuls of twigs, leaves, sand, and earth. You won’t find an inch without some kind of plastic.
Some of the stuff flaunts itself brazenly in the morning sun. The bright colors entice me despite all I’ve learned about plastic and its drawbacks. I feel like I’m on a treasure hunt… but the “treasure” is a lie.
It dares me to laugh in spite of myself…
Other bits seek shelter in cracks and crevices…
In return, living creatures attempt to make plastic their home.
Some of these things have been here so long, they crumble in your hand when you try to remove them… reminding us that plastic never goes away, it just breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces.
Alison Vogel, a Green Sangha member, sent out an email the evening before our Damon Slough outing to encourage people to come. Her words made me cry. Not being one to hoard my tears, I thought I would share some of her email with you.
This shoreline we are cleaning up on Saturday is a beautiful part of the East Bay Regional Parks, with gorgeous views of the Bay, San Francisco and Mt. Tamalpais. And it’s terribly polluted with empty alcohol bottles, plastic cigar holders, crumbling Styrofoam that breaks into little fish egg size balls that get mistaken for food, plastic Halloween size candy wrappers by the hundreds, plastic bags, plastic toys, tons of little broken bits of plastic….and worst of all….lots of syringes. We found 8 last time in just two hours. There is no paid staff to get out there and clean this stuff up.This area is home to hundreds of birds.Last time I got to see an incredibly gorgeous Snowy Egret through my friend’s binoculars. Something I had never seen up close like that, or maybe ever for that matter. Not that I recall. It was so majestic looking, standing on one leg to conserve energy with it’s fluffy white feathers blowing in the wind. I was filled with a mixture of awe and respect and amazement, along with shame for our ignorance, disconnect and destruction as a species, and then more gratitude, inspiration and hope that all of us cared enough to be cleaning this stuff up! This is their home and ours too. Though they live in harmony in a closed loop that keeps it in balance, we with our “higher” consciousness have not yet evolved in a way that is non harming. It’s always deeply puzzling to me that the most intelligent species, other than perhaps dolphins and whales, have come to this place in history and our Earth, our only home, is in such a crisis.
It comes up a lot, in a waxing and waning sort of manner, “What is the point of my existence here? How can I make this life mean something?” And it always comes back to selfless service. Just get out there and do something that needs doing that will bring peace, joy, happiness or simply less suffering for others.It’s so simple, so easy, so rewarding and the options unlimited.
Last night, walking to dinner with Michael, I picked up a smashed blue dental floss container and several plastic Easter eggs that were lying in the gutter. What will you pick up the next time you leave your house? What will you notice? And how will you let it change you?