On my first day, I set out with a plastic bag, rubber gloves, and outdoor fireplace tongs (my de facto garbage grabber), for what I thought would be a single session of clean up duty. Three days later, I finished. By the third session, I admit I was reluctant to resume. My collection effort was not a joyful or rewarding experience. It was heartbreaking. I was disappointed in those who threw these items out their car windows. But there was a deeper reflective process taking place too. As the number of items I collected grew, I kept asking myself two questions: How had I been missing all this? And, more importantly, if we can’t solve the environmental challenges we have been fighting for decades, how can we come together to solve the greater challenge of climate change?
I collected 145 items in less than a mile. Approximately one item every ten yards. Some items I reclaimed had been laying in their spot for so long that they were becoming part of their environment, enmeshed in the soil and old plant growth. A car bumper stands out as the largest example of this. I noticed it only because of its factory red color. Most of it was buried and I had to dig to discover what it was and remove it.
Recovering Styrofoam from drain water was a lesson in all that is wrong with roadside pollution. Saturated, much of it had already begun to break apart. It was hard to capture and when I finally managed to do so, it would break apart further. Tiny pellets evaded my frantic fingers. I could just imagine the trusting fish downstream ingesting the pellets thinking they were food. I wondered if I should have left well enough alone.
With the collection complete, I turned to cataloging. I divided the items into seven major categories and further refined those into sub-categories. I recorded the material from which each was made. I noted whether the item was recyclable, and if so by what method: Curbside, Deposit or Drop Off (e.g. returning plastic bags to the grocery store).