The Opposite of Being Green : An Optimist’s Anger

This past weekend in New England brought record-breaking temperatures and had many of us coastal folks beach bound.  It was 85 degrees a few miles from the water, which, for April, is absolutely unheard of in Rhode Island.   But the problem with early beach days is that the lockers, pavilions and bathrooms are all closed until mid-May.  It also means no beach patrol or lifeguards on duty and this generally translates to complete anarchy on normal beach rules.  Dogs running amuck, people carrying cases of Corona from the trunks of their cars and Frisbees and footballs being tossed all down the beach. 

None of these seem inherently wrong (well, except public drinking which I think is always illegal except in Vegas) but the aftermath of this unseasonably gorgeous day was an inordinate amount of trash on the beach.  The town beach that many of us (including myself and Kim and Joe and their kids) visit all summer long has very few trash barrels that are left out on the off season.   We decided to pack up and head home around 4:30 or so and were horrified to discover the mounds of garbage piled up not only in and on but next to the actual trash barrel.  The one in the parking lot and the one in front of the pavilion were simply covered, drowned in beer bottles and empty McDonalds bags and Styrofoam coolers.  It was unreal – people had just decided that instead of carrying their trash back to their cars and disposing it at home, it was a much better idea to place it in the massive pile that had formed NEXT to the trash can.  It’s proximity to an actual trash receptacle, they felt, was enough to justify leaving their trash there.  On the ground. 

Kim and I were both disgusted – not only because this was our beach, a place we all spend so much time on in the summer months but also because, ironically enough, this past week was Earth Day and beach clean-ups had taken place across the state.  Hah.   

We decided to go back home, grab trash bags and boxes and come back to the beach to sort through the recycling and the garbage and to at least ensure the trash was secure and wouldn’t blow all over the beach later that night.  Because the beaches are closed, no one is around to provide daily maintenance and therefore, the whole proximity to trash plan would have resulted in a giant ENVIRONMENT FAIL. 

It was interesting, as we sifted through the mess and tried to remedy at least part of the situation, how people reacted.  Some passersby thanked us, or pointed out to their kids how we were helping to clean up people’s irresponsible mess.  But others?  Others rolled their eyes and a few even came up to us with their trash in hand and asked “Uh, where can I leave this?”   YOU CAN BRING IT HOME!  I wanted to scream.  Bring it home – that’s where it came from, I presume?  Why is it ok to simply discard it on the sand?  Do you think there is a trash fairy that visits the beach each night to clean up after you? 

Look, in most cases in life, I’m a realist.  I understand that the lifestyle I have adopted – the lifestyle that everyone here at Green Life Smart Life tries to embody, is not necessarily going to come easy to everyone.  I am not surprised when I see people using plastic bags at the grocery store or buying plastic water bottles and throwing them in the trash.  I’m saddened, but not surprised.  But littering is another story.  Littering is something we as a society have accepted is unacceptable.  We’ve made laws, charged fines, listened to numerous marketing campaigns on not trashing our Earth.  If you were to toss your Styrofoam cooler out the window while cruising down I-95 and a law enforcement official saw you, you could expect to be pulled over and fined a minimum of $500.  But there were no cops on the beach on Sunday.  No patrol, no lifeguards. 

But should that matter?  How can it possibly be ok to simply place your trash on the ground and walk away?  Would it be ok if I came to your yard and tossed my candy wrappers onto your lawn?   The beach might not be my yard, but it is certainly mine, at least a piece of it.  It’s yours too.  And my kids, and their kids, and every person who will live after us. 

It was the complete and utter disregard for the environment – not just in some far off place in the world that seems intangibly unimportant, but our town beach, in our backyard – that got me.  How everyone so thoroughly enjoyed said environment all day long and then as a thank you for such a nice, warm, pleasant spring day, threw their crap on the ground and walked away.  I’m as much of an optimist as I am a realist but Sunday…..Sunday, I felt extremely defeated.

End note: After we left our pavilion, Kim visited the one located on the south part of the beach and what she found was even more disturbing.  Not just piles of trash near trash cans but scattered on the sand, like one giant landfill.  The pictures speak for themselves.

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Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

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