This is a post all about trash, but I hope you see that it’s also about much more.
All photos in this post are pictures of debris I picked up off the coast of Island Beach State Park in NJ, after only about two hours of cleanup. (Because I am not so keen on housing much more beach trash in my car, I only held on to two bags for picture purposes.) It wasn’t hard to spot this mostly-plastic waste, from the parking lot up to the water.
Island Beach is a gorgeous state park and, in my assessment, well cared for and maintained. I found all this junk mixed in with shells, seaweed and driftwood during low tide, and I believe most of this stuff has already been in the ocean. There is so much stuff already in the ocean. And all the litter you see on land will flow to the ocean as well.
I realize the futility of this task while I pick these things up. No one asked me to do this. But I can’t stop myself. I try to fit trash pickups in every day, a little before or after work maybe.
I read a lot about problems in the world and am used to be directed to a GoFundMe page right about now. I do donate to causes I care about and you should too. But I don’t want anyone to link to their PayPal account just yet.
I want to ask you to not buy that thing you are about to buy. Or at least, run through some questions right now:
Do you have to buy that thing? What happens if you don’t?
Do you need this thing right now, and do you need it new? Do you need it covered in packaging or shipped in packaging material? Do you need it in a plastic bag or could you carry it a while, maybe keep a reusable bag in your car or near you sometimes?
Could you borrow that thing from someone? Could you make it at home? Wouldn’t it be nice to spend time with a friend and borrow theirs for a while? Maybe you can lend them something too? Wouldn’t you prefer to see them, to hug them today? (Isn’t it funny that this interaction wouldn’t cost any money but it immensely valuable to you all the same?)
There are some things that I was taught are absolutely needed to be purchased regularly and new. But sometimes that isn’t true. (To date I have walked three women through the use of a Diva cup and if you text or DM me I will help you too).
Yes, I still make money and spend money and buy things. When I do, I try to make sure they come from local spots that infuse more of that money into my community. Sometimes these awesome local shops give me discounts for bringing in reusable cups or bags and sometimes they sponsor community clean-ups or other great events. Will your money go to a great place like that if you do buy that thing right now?
I want you to forget the Recycle part of this, because I have sometimes used this as a crutch. Gosh I love to get lattes out in the world and I thought that if I recycled the cup and lid afterwards, I was absolved of this waste. But I pick a LOT of coffee chain plastic out of the ocean these days. Sometimes we throw something in a recycling bin but it doesn’t end up being recycled. Sometimes the only way to be sure we aren’t polluting our waterways is to not buy that thing. I can make coffee at home instead.
It can be hard to question our culture and traditions, and I never want to offend anyone while I radically re-imagine how I live. That said, Dear People Who Love Me: You never need to give me a balloon again. I won’t give or bring balloons to people from now on, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to celebrate with you. This is a small fraction of the balloon waste I picked out of the ocean. In the last week. And I am just on person:
So, Reuse something you already have. Or, my new favorite is: REDUCE. Maybe don’t buy that thing. Maybe come take a walk with me instead.
It’s OK if you buy that thing. Maybe you need it. Next week I will try to fish it out of the ocean.
This post inspired in many ways by How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. Get if from your library, or purchase to share with someone you love.