Friday, June 13, 2014

Clean City: Trash Tramps [Guest Post]

This I Believe – Trash Collecting
by guest writer Anne Ferguson

In the interest of full disclosure, let me start by saying that I am not a neat freak; everything doesn’t have to be sterile or unduly organized in my world. Let me also state that I don’t feel that I am particularly obsessed or driven to clean or tidy up.

Years ago I read a letter to the editor in our local paper that stated so beautifully what I always knew to be true. The man wrote in his letter: “I am not a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist. I am not going to be able to solve the world’s problems or stop the wars or perform miracles.  But I want to put my energies into improving our world so I am going to pick up trash. It’s not a big thing but it will help.”

That’s for me, I said. So whenever I was out for a walk and I noticed something that needed picking up, I did that. I believe in picking up trash.

Recently, however, along with other trash-minded friends, I have ramped up my efforts. I add an extra half hour onto my travel time knowing I will be stopping to collect trash as I walk. Sometimes I go for a walk with the sole purpose of picking up trash. My trash-collecting friend, Rebecca perfected the plastic bag lined cloth bag that works best for holding the trash that is found.  I discovered the over-sized plastic chopsticks at the toy store that can be used for picking up trash while keeping mittens (in the cold weather) and hands (in the warmer weather) clean.

It is a different kind of walk to go on when collecting trash.  Eyes downturned and searching the ground, not unlike a scavenger hunt, the focus of my walk has changed. What bits of trash I never noticed before I now see everywhere.

I became more aware of the severity of the trash problem in our town this spring, due in large part to the melting snow revealing all the bits of dropped and blown trash from our long Vermont winter. I found squished beer cans, assorted plastic wrappers, well-chewed pieces of gum of all colors, some batches of packing peanuts, winter-weary Styrofoam cups, and always, everywhere, cigarette butts.

Millions of butts tossed on sidewalks add up.  The cigarette butts cause so many problems. The toxic chemicals that have been trapped in the filters are released when the butts work their way into our rivers and oceans, polluting the water. Mistaken for food, the filters are eaten by fish and waterfowl.

Some folks have suggested that my friends and I (we refer to ourselves as the Trash Tramps) use long-handled grabbers rather than the chopsticks so we don’t have to bend over so far to pick up the trash. But it is in the bending, the bowing down that says “This work is not beneath me, it is humbling but not shameful. It is worthy of my time and my effort.”

Collecting trash is best done with at least one buddy – more than one is even better. My friends and I love to chat as we pick up trash. Having a few people together picking up trash makes others more aware of what we’re doing. It’s contagious; other folks stop by and tell us how they collect trash, too.  Some people will point out the trash for us; some start to pick up trash with us, others thank us.

I’m not doing this for thanks, or as part of a community restorative justice project, or because it is green-up day (a state-wide effort every spring to tidy up our state). I just feel that it is just the right thing to do. I’m not saying anyone else needs to do it.  It’s just what I’m doing – and some of my wonderful trashy friends, are too.

Anne Ferguson
Vermont