My Turn: Shades of green seen worldwide
Having spent the month of May in Transylvania, I’ve had ample opportunity to reflect on how green other countries may or may not be. The Romanian city I lived in had small trash bins everywhere, on lampposts, telephone poles, park benches; their slogan read and#8220;Keep Cluj Cleanand#8221; which was a bit of an overstatement based on how many there were.
It would be impossible to litter there, as all you had to do is swing your arm around and release your litter into the air and the chance that it would fall into one of those little containers was very high. I even saw some people trying that. At least I think that is what they were doing.
One weekend I went onto a nature preserve out in rural Transylvania and went for a lovely hike along a river there, its water clear and mountain born. Unfortunately, there were so many plastic bottles it blew my mind. They were caught in the brush and debris on the side of the river, swimming in the middle swirling around in eddies, and they would congregate in rocky spots forming plastic dams. It was an environmentalist’s nightmare. Yes, it was my nightmare.
The weird thing was, there were few people around, and that remote region didn’t see a lot of travelers. Where did all these bottles come from?
Had they just built up over time and no one ever did any clean up?
As I searched for one single stretch of the river that didn’t have a bottle, I thought about Truckee River Clean-Up Day and how much litter is picked up each year. I thought about my childhood with its media campaigns from Hootie the Owl to the single-teared Indian. I thought about the Merced River in Yosemite and what it might look like with an insane amount of plastic bottles in it.
Now, I am not so naïve to think Americans don’t litter. A float down the Truckee last week turned up plenty of cans and bottles hidden among the shore grasses, but nothing in comparison to what I saw in Romania.
This combined with the fact that there is no widespread recycling in Romania. For every bottle we recycle in California, they are throwing away 10, and I think this is the world’s norm, not the exception.
When I returned from my trip I went back to Massachusetts to visit my family on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. After a day or so of noticing plastic, glass, and aluminum in the trash, I asked about recycling on the island. The response was: there wasn’t any. How could this be?
I looked up the sanitation department’s website and found out that when my family said there was no recycling on the island, they meant there was no pick-up, but you could do it at the dump if you were willing to haul it over there.
Oh, and it had to be sorted into a million different categories.
Oh, and you had to pay $10 annually for some special sticker. After another day of vacation trash piling up, I couldn’t take it anymore and I set out to create a recycling station on the back porch.
When my mom got a look at it she squeaked, and#8220;Oh look at my daughter, she’s so green,and#8221; as if I was 6 and just achieved some childhood milestone. Other family members were grumbling about how recycling isn’t profitable anymore and many states are giving up on it. So, we should too?
Two trips to the dump later (ignoring the sticker requirement wasn’t a problem), and I had hauled multiple, huge trash bins filled with plastic, glass, newspaper, cardboard and cans. It was a chore and I thought about what Kermit the Frog used to say, and#8220;Its not easy being greenand#8221;.
Unfortunately I had a feeling that as soon as I was gone, things would go back to and#8220;normaland#8221; at the Vineyard and#8212; we’ll see.
It’s good to be home in Truckee where normal is defined by our award-winning recycling program (well there should be an award for it) and our utmost respect for our natural environment, minus those people that leave their dog poop in a plastic bag by the side of the trail.
I guess what I learned was; do what you can when you can, even if it is a chore, and don’t worry too much about what you can’t control. The world has many shades of green.
Whitney Foehl is a Truckee resident.
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