Monday, 14 December 2009

Trashing the Colne (and beyond)

On Friday, I walked along side to Colne from the Hythe to Wivenhoe. It's been a couple of weeks since I last made that walk. It's still the same river, still the same mud, still the same buildings on the dock and in the distance. Some of the purple and yellow flowers that had been out last month are gone now. The sloe berries are disappearing from the bushes. (Hopefully they're being eaten by birds--migrating through or otherwise--and not all being harvested for sloe gin.) A few of the trees have less leaves on them. These changes I had expected. I was even excited to take notice of them because it means that I've been paying attention and getting to know the river. The unexpected changes, the ones that stood out and weren't at all subtle, were the new pieces of brightly colored trash that floated down river, sat in their bulk on the exposed river bed or in the reeds. Had the recent rain washed it all into the river? Had it been thrown in by thinking human beings?

When we got to the Netherlands on the Big Ben to Brussels walk, several of the walkers remarked they were impressed with how litter-free the paths were. Were the Dutch really that aware? That tidy? Or were the areas we were walking through just that desolate? Or was it those on-shore winds that swept everything east-ward? Well, I'm not sure what the real answer was, but I can tell you that the metro stations in Rotterdam were not without their litter. We saw more on the walk as we passed into more densely populated areas.

I know that the trash in the river isn't just accidental. If may be on the majority due to run off, but people are still throwing their trash in the streets. I see it a lot here. And it surprises me. It's not like the Brits have an immense expanse of land that they can think oh this bit doesn't matter, but that bit over there does. It's all so tightly knit. On my walk to the grocery store the other day, I saw at least twenty crumpled and dropped bus tickets. I see plastic wrappers from cigarettes and other products. I see cigarette packs, discarded lighters, broken glass, empty plastic bottles, scraps of paper (especially those little slips from ATMs) and a smorgasbord of other things. No wonder Bill Bryson wanted to start an anti-litter campaign when he joined the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England. It's called Stop the Drop. I'm not sure what they're doing with it, but I think it should be in place in each city, each county council, each school, each university. I'm regularly disappointed by the students on this campus who just throw their litter to the ground. They're meant to be educated and aware of the world. How is it that this educated population is so uneducated about the negative impacts of their litter?

It's not that this problem is so unusual or so extreme here. The worst litter problem I've seen, is probably along 6th street as you're approaching downtown LA from the west. In the mornings, possibly before the street cleaners (machines and men) make it out to the curb), the street is literally covered with trash. Pieces of paper and plastic bags are lifted and moved around by passing cars. The sidewalks are mosaics of bits of litter. Why? How can people live like that?

How can someone throw his trash into the river and be so disrespectful? So short-sighted? There's TV that is suck in the mud. I saw a mini-fridge floating down the river a few weeks back. There are plastic bags in the reeds. Various bits and bobs of who knows what: bottle caps, bit of wood, bits of building materials, electronics, wires, what about toxins? Research to do. Maybe if I weren't afraid of being where I shouldn't be, getting wet and getting stuck in the mud, I'd go in after the trash. Maybe one day I will. Let's plan a river cleaning.

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