I decided to clean up my neighborhood for the first Earth Day. I got bags from Mom and picked up trash along the side of the road. I was told it was useless, you can’t change human nature, people will just throw more trash after it’s clean. My childish self asserted that people would see that life is better without the trash and would keep it clean. Everyone laughed at me. I’m a ferocious trash picker upper. (Outside anyway. Not so much inside.) I left the bags next to the side of the road so everyone could see how much garbage they were throwing away. Guilt started to seep in. Mom was only willing to sacrifice one box of garbage bags to my environmental concerns, so I brazenly knocked on the neighbors’ door and asked for more trash bags. Guilt hit a new level. Neighbors started picking up trash before I got to them. The Glen is trash free.
Years later, I walked in the woods and found the remnants of a beer party. I started collecting bottles for recycling. After I filled a very large bag, I hauled it to a front porch full of guilty beer drinkers and threw the box of trash bags at them. “I picked up one bag of trash, but this is your mess. Clean it up!” About 10 guilty young men looked at each other and trooped down to the woods with the trash bags.
This year, Penny and I have been taking walks in our current neighborhood for exercise. This got pretty dull, so I combined recycling with our walks and started collecting recyclables en route. Penny thought this was an improvement in our walks because she had more time to smell bushes and pee on things. I thought it was an improvement because I did more bending – but now we don’t have any more trash to pick up. The guilt factor seems to have kicked in amongst these neighbors too.
Some things are clearly right or clearly wrong. People know better than to throw trash out of their car windows. They learned this in kindergarten. Everyone feels better when the neighborhood is litter-free. It was true when I was 9 and it’s still true.
I think about people’s comments before I picked up my first trash bag. “You can’t change things… human nature… nobody cares…” I still hear these messages. We’ve let the littering bullies rule the world. Big businesses blow up mountain ranges for coal and pollute streams and drinking water. Fracking for natural gas without regulations destroys more water. The Chinese have turned their air into a toxic solid…
But we can do things. Think about all those plastic bottles I’ve picked up. Each bottle is made from oil in a faraway country which is shipped halfway around the world so you can drink NYC tap water with a fancy label while toxic chemicals may leach into the water you’re drinking. Oil for your bottle contributes to wars in the Middle East and pollution in the oceans. Even if the bottle gets recycled, it’s probably shipped back around the world to India where the reclamation process spews more chemicals in the air. So, if you want to do one decent thing for the world, quit drinking water in plastic bottles. Put your glass under the kitchen faucet and think about saving the world one plastic bottle at a time.
This art was created for my city’s initial recycling program. I have to admit I was kind of dumbfounded when they gave me a plaque, and it’s been sitting on a book shelf for 21 years because I can’t throw it away, but didn’t know what to do with it either. I also got the city and county park system to use recycled paper with soy-based inks. Obviously my ferocity about recycling isn’t a new thing.
Treat the earth well.
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors,
we borrow it from our children.
-- American Indian proverb
PS – I was asked recently about how artists can get printed samples for their portfolios without working for a pittance. This brochure is a good example. I didn’t get paid for it, but I was happy to do it because it was for a good cause. And I got a plaque :) I had plenty of pieces for my portfolio when I did this, so my main object was making an inexpensive, clearly understood brochure. If you’re doing something for the printed portfolio piece, flex your creative skills through volunteering.