I Picked Up Nearly 500 Pounds of Litter in 1 Month. Its Contents Revealed an Eerie Truth.

On April 1st, I hosted a neighborhood clean-up, though the hosting bit was rather difficult considering that I was the only attendee. The schedule was set for two hours on the nicest Saturday of 2017, so far. 60 degrees, sunny, without a cloud in sight. I don’t blame people for not showing up. In fact, my original thought process was that if no one showed up I’d skip out on participating and hit up a local park with the family instead. Eventually, I decided to follow through with the original plan and spend two hours picking up litter from around my neighborhood and the nearby creek. 2 hours later, I finished up, having picked up 200 lbs of garbage.

I shared my story on April 3rd, and made this commitment:

“By now, you’ve probably figured out that I am on a mission to become a person who truly practices what they preach. So, here’s my challenge to myself for the month of April: whenever I go out on a walk or hike, I will bring a bag so that I can help in the fight against litter. Here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m going to keep weighing what I pick up and tally it up over the course of the rest of the month to see just how much waste I can tackle.” Devon Bowker- I Organized a Neighborhood Clean-Up and Here’s What Happened, April 3, 2017

Well, it’s been a month now and I did exactly what I promised. Day after day, hike after hike, I carried a bag with me and casually picked up litter that I came across. I didn’t seek it out. I didn’t dedicate a multi-hour block of time to pick up litter and nothing else. I didn’t allow it to become an inconvenience and I certainly didn’t pick up everything that I came across. All I did was carry a bag with me, either in my hiking bag or the bottom of the stroller, and pick things up as I came across them. It was purely casual.

I brought my scale with me, keeping it in the trunk and weighing things in the same manner I had on April 1st, keeping tally on my phones notepad. All-in-all, I managed to pick-up 276 pounds of litter over 13 different sessions. Add that to the totals from clean-up day, and that’s nearly 500 pounds.

Think about this for a moment. Forget the first clean-up. 200 pounds in two hours isn’t realistic to expect from everyone. Let’s focus only on the rest of April. I was able to pick up 276 pounds of litter without even trying. If I could do that each month that was seasonally possible, we’re looking at over 2 thousand pounds of waste removed from the environment on an annual basis. If each household in America were to do this, that adds up to 250 billion pounds of garbage. That’s unbelievable.

As extraordinary as that is, what I discovered during this mission was actually quite eerie. A majority, and I’m not talking the just-over-50% kind, of the litter I picked up was recyclable material. All types of paper, soda cans, gas station fountain drink cups, cardboard, plastic bottles, all things that could have been recycled into new products and materials. Now, because of the way I was going about picking things up, recyclables were mixed with garbage and it was difficult to sort them at the bin every time. Regrettably, this means that much of what I picked up, though it was removed from the environment, was destined for a landfill.

Residential waste accounts for 55% of the national waste stream (JouleBug). Much of what is thrown away can be recycled. Assuming you recycle just 90% of the your recyclable materials, you’ll be diverting 245 pounds of waste from landfills, saving 816 pounds of CO2 annually (JouleBug). Add in all of that litter to the equation and consider that most of its contents could avoid a landfill all together if only we showed more individual and social responsibility.

April has ended, but this mission and my invitation for your participation has not. I plan to continue this eco-challenge just as before but with one adjustment: I will sort out recyclables from garbage, keeping a separate tally, and update you all at the end of May with the totals. 

 

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