Earth Day Observations

Andy Koenigsberg

May 6, 2017

On Earth Day, I devoted a couple of hours to the Westborough Community Land Trust’s annual cleanup, which I do almost every year. This year, I scoured one side of Route 30, between Uhlman’s Ice Cream and Mugford’s Flowers and filled two large trash bags.

Every year, I note that most of the trash I pick up, by quantity, if not volume, consists of empty alcohol containers: beer cans, beer bottles, those little plastic or glass liquor bottles, occasional wine bottles and rarely, a full sized liquor bottle. Then there are losing lottery tickets. There could be a correlation there.

This year, as close as I was to Uhlman’s, I thought I’d pick up a lot of Styrofoam ice cream cups and plastic spoons, but I found just one or two. I came to the conclusion that ice cream eaters are far more responsible than alcohol drinkers or lottery ticket buyers.

I know, genius conclusion. You’d never guess I went to college.

This is the kind of thing that I think about while doing a semi-mindless task and avoiding thorn bushes, under which invariably a lot of garbage ends up. A new corollary to Murphy’s Law, perhaps?

It’s been over two generations since the first Earth Day, yet it often seems that no one has learned anything.

Every year, I keep wondering why we have to have this clean up in the first place. I get it that it makes people feel good to clean up their town. I get it that it’s a service to the town. I get it that we are doing some small thing to take care of our little piece of the planet.

Still, what is it with people? Why are people so lazy that can’t people put their trash in trash cans? What is the example we collectively setting for our kids that they could grow up to be such jerks?

I don’t have an answer to any of these questions.

Actually, there is an answer to the alcohol discards. No one wants to be caught with open containers in their car. Explains the ice cream versus beer dichotomy. But that goes back to setting an example, or the lack thereof.

Given what I see on an annual basis, I think we should still be airing the Native American ad dozens of times a day. Maybe it could be streaming from every smart phone when it’s turned it on.

Laws against littering are great, but we can’t make our police be on every corner 24/7 waiting for the next litterbug.

On behalf of WCLT, I recently led a geology hike through the Headwaters Conservation Area for two classes of fifth graders. At the end of the hike, I talked to the kids about why we have conservation lands and why we are all responsible for keeping them clean. I recommended that they take a small plastic bag with them when they walk through these areas, to collect garbage they find as they walk along.

I also asked them what else they should do. They gave me some blank looks. I said “Don’t drop garbage on the ground in the first place.” Practice “Leave no trace”. Take only pictures. Leave only footprints.

I think a couple of kids got the message. At least I hope so. I can only do so much, but if I don’t try then there’s no hope at all.