Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy 40th Birthday, Earth Day!

Being an animal-loving freak sort of walks hand-in-hand with being an environmentally conscious person. I'm not a perfect preserver, but I can acknowledge that I do a fairly substantial part.

When I first moved from my company's Omaha, Nebraska headquarters to a satellite office in Minneapolis, I was disappointed to see they didn't recycle. For a state that prides itself on having crisp air quality, clean water, and plentiful parks, nature preserves, and wetlands, I couldn't believe that the Omaha building was doing a better job with recycling basic office materials than our much smaller Minneapolis office. After doing some investigating, I learned that the tower I work in is a LEED-certified building and had recycling options within the janitorial realm; we just never bothered to do it within the confines of our half of a floor.

The front-desk admin at the time and I went to work to get this implemented. We learned we could get free recycling bins (we didn't even need to sort anything) for everyone's personal office, as well as five 30-gallon bins for the overall space. Free?! Why wouldn't we do this? Within a week the building gave us all the bins we needed to outfit our more-sustainable floor. I put two of the large bins in the printer/copier room for all of the paper, two in the kitchen for all of the bottles and cans, and the last in the back-up printer area. Each bin has a sign of what is recyclable and what is not.

We have to bring our recyclables from our personal offices and dump them into the larger bins, and the janitorial team takes care of the sorting and disposal. It really couldn't be much easier. While I can't get everyone to believe that recycling is important, we're at least doing more now than in the past. I'm happy to say we've been recycling since 2006, and I'd like to think I've played a big part in saving more trees, cans, and bottles than the average Joe.

In addition to recycling at home and in the office, I also drive a fuel-efficient and low-emission car (a Subaru, which is also a very conscious company), I ride my bike/walk/run everywhere and anytime I can, I reuse canvas bags instead of plastic bags, I shop organic and local at farmer's markets when in season, and there's plenty of research to show that vegetarian and vegan diets are also good for the environment.

One thing I am not good at, however, is picking up trash. I'm a little bit of a germophobe and would prefer to not touch someone else's waste.

Instead of going on my 5-mile run this afternoon, I decided to focus on cleaning up the nature preserve in my backyard. It's a nature preserve, for crying out loud! Let's try preserving it by keeping it clean. Coming out of winter, the ground is especially polluted because so much trash gets buried in piles of snow throughout the cold months. And once that all melts, things can get ugly. I received plenty of "Thank you", "I clean up trash around here, too!" and "Happy Earth Day" comments, but I did hear a couple "That's an endless job" and "Why bother" statements. The latter comments were fairly insulting, but then I realized that most of the year I'm also fishing for excuses to not dirty my hands.

The nature preserve has a 1.2-mile trail surrounding the marshy cattails, and my original plan was to clean all the trash I saw on my run that was on my right-hand side, and then I'd make second loop, looking for all the trash on my left-hand side.

When I'm not reusing bags I have laying around, I have a collection of BioBags. They are biodegradable, compostable bags that are lightweight and break down in a very little amount of time. They are reasonably priced, and when considering that plastic bags take up to 500 years to biodegrade, this is a simple solution to part of the problem. (Sadly, they are only available for purchase in retail stores in Minnesota, California, Washington state, and Texas, but they can be ordered online.)
I realized during my first lap that there was no way I had enough material to carry all the trash I was finding and I wouldn't be able to do both laps. The nature preserve is beyond beautiful -- but the trash makes parts of it ugly. I could go back out and do this for a few more hours with many, many more bags. If I had mud boots, I could have ventured into the swampy parts and picked up a bunch more.

I also realized that there was no way I'd get even a 2.4-mile run in. I could only run a few steps before stopping to pick something up, so I more or less went on a walk. Most of the trash was buried deeper into the woods, and it required a lot of walking through saplings, prickly trees, and branches to get to it. I ended up with a lot of scratches today, but who knew ducking and squatting was such a good leg workout!

This Styrofoam coffee cup will take more than 5,000 years to biodegrade.
These pieces of paper will take break down in 2 to 5 months. This aluminum can will sit here for 200 to 500 years.This Ziploc bag will take up to 500 years to break down.Cardboard takes 4 weeks to break down, but the plastic film around a cigarette box will prevent that from happening until 20 to 30 years from now.
I actually picked up a second bag, which proved to be very handy.
Sadly, this plastic bottle will never biodegrade. It will ALWAYS be there. I don't know about you, but the thought of "forever" blows my mind.
Very creative, you polluters! This bottle will break down in 1,000,000 years. See that duck in the water? I raced him to the Coke can. It will be there for 2oo to 500 years, so it was a quick race to pick that up and recycle it.
And then I found a third bag which was the most helpful of all, because the two smaller bags I had were overflowing and tearing from all my hiking in the woods.
If these geese knew that I was taking this trash away from them so they wouldn't eat it, I'm sure they'd be thankful.Although now all the trash I picked up will just rot in a landfill for thousands to millions of years, at the very least it's not uglying up this wonderful place we share. The nature preserve is just a little bit cleaner today.
Facts about biodegradability were taken from here.

What did you do for Earth Day?

1 comment:

  1. Isn't it so sad that people just throw their "stuff" on the ground and don't care? When I walk our dog in the mornings, I always try to pick up any trash we come across (I carry poop bags!). It's disgusting that people don't have more consideration and thoughfulness. Good job on your clean-up effort! Have a great weekend!