|Litter, dropped by scum|
You can look at this positively and celebrate the fact that 3,500 volunteers were prepared to give up their Saturday mornings to get covered in mud and help make the Potomac River a cleaner place. Or you can stand at the side of the creek, as I did, staring down at the rubbish glut and muttering misanthropic clichés about the state of mankind and how we no longer deserve a place on a planet that we continue to rape and pollute.
I have a short song, as yet unrecorded (you’ll be relieved to hear), that goes through my head every time I see litter in natural areas. It’s called ‘Litter-Dropping Scum’, and it’s not very subtle: “You litter-dropping scum/The day will come/I’m gonna get you/With my litter-dropper-killing gun…” Its stated goal is the vigilante-style eradication of anyone who does not dispose of their trash in the correct manner. I’m nothing if not an idealist.
But does clearing out our local creek make us morally superior beings?
Unfortunately, not at all. Where do the 74 tons of trash go that we collected? Into the landfill, and obviously it’s better there than in the river and on into the sea. But we are all users of tires and plastic bottles and bags, and it’s not the ill-considered disposal of the products themselves that causes the majority of pollution. Elizabeth Royte’s excellent book Garbage Land: On The Secret Trail Of Trash, which includes the author’s efforts to recycle absolutely every single piece of rubbish she generates, reveals that each ton of trash we generate had already resulted in 70 tons of industrial waste in order to produce it in the first place. Yes, s-e-v-e-n-t-y.
And so Ms Royte comes to realise that although her endeavours to create a compost bin make her feel a little bit better, on the larger scale of things all our efforts to clean up and recycle are about as effective as a gnat’s belch in turning back a hurricane. This leaves the planet with two long term possibilities to survive: 1. A concerted, radical change on a global scale in the way we produce, consume and dispose of material goods. 2. An epidemic or war that destroys a significant majority of the human race, or indeed the human race in its entirety. Given our track record, I’m not placing any bets on option One.