Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Custodians: Busting Myths about Trash

Today I am going to shamelessly promote the ministry "Custodians." This is a great ministry for me because it doesn't require me to coordinate large numbers of volunteers, make phone calls, or adhere to a set schedule. I don't do any of those things very well. I joined Custodians when I began to realize just how poor a job the Church was doing at fulfilling the first job God ever gave us, which was to take care of the earth.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
- Genesis 2:15 - 

 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God ... in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

- Romans 8:19-21 - 

Anyone can participate in Custodians. All you need is an empty bag.

My particular group meets (or doesn't meet) twice a week (or once, or three times) at Playalinda Beach (or Sand Point Park, or the neighborhood behind the library) for about an hour and a half (or half an hour, or three hours ... you get the drift). We pick up trash. Then we throw it in the nearest trash can.

It's that simple.

Today I was blessed by a woman from Maine who was visiting Playalinda with her husband. He was fishing. She was watching him. Then she started watching me. She got up and asked if I had an extra bag. I did. (Note: it is always a good idea to carry an extra bag.) She then proceeded to clean the beach, taking the half closest to the waves while I patrolled the dunes. We each got a full bag, a lot of exercise, and the enjoyment of helping to keep the beach beautiful.
Pelicans, cormorants, gulls, and terns on Playalinda Beach.
Side Note: A plug here for Playalinda Beach, which is part of the Canaveral National Seashore. It is one of the most beautiful beaches on the East Coast, completely undeveloped and the premier nesting site for three species of sea turtle. If you've never been there, you should put it on your bucket list. I'm blessed to have it so close.
I've noticed some trends in beach trash, and I am assuming -- since I am trying to look for the good in people -- that these trends are due solely to ignorance on the part of beach goers. Therefore, I am dedicating the rest of this blog to clearing up some myths about trash.

MYTH #1 -- If it is edible, it is not trash.
Pieces of fruit, especially citrus, are quite common on the beach even though there are no fruit trees for miles and miles. Since fruit doesn't tend to fall off trees in neatly-sliced wedges, I think it is reasonable to infer that this fruit is left behind by beach picnickers. Yes, it is biodegradable. However, the only creatures on the beach that are going to eat your lemons are ants. Would you want your children playing in an anthill? (Remember, Florida ants BITE.) Neither would I. To the person who left an entire pineapple on the beach, wrapped in an old pillowcase (I kid you not!), thank you SO much for the ant bites I got trying to clean that mess up.

MYTH #2 -- If it is biodegradable, it is not trash.
Smokers are especially likely to believe this myth, if one judges by the number of cigarette butts I clean up each week. Would you want your children to play in an ashtray? (Especially the ash tray of a stranger?) Neither would I. If you can't bring your own ashtray to pack out your butts when you are finished with them, please learn how to "field strip" a cigarette butt before throwing it on the sand. And for those mothers who are fastidious about cleaning their children's hands with wipes ... take the used wipes home with you! What kind of example are you setting for your little ones? "Joey, wash your hands before you eat. Now drop your trash on the beach, that's a good boy."

MYTH #3 -- If I bury it, it is not trash.
I love this one. Yes, I know sand blows over trash, but I am talking about trash that is deliberately buried ... I can tell the difference. I can only guess the mindset that leads to this sort of thing: Yes, we will bury our trash, and it will stay forever buried, because you know, the beach never erodes or anything. High tide, low tide, tropical storms ... sand never shifts. News flash: that plastic Mountain Dew bottle you buried right beside the plastic Mountain Dew bottle you left lying on top of the sand...I found it because the top inch of sand had already eroded away. 

MYTH #4 -- If I don't want it, but someone else might, it is not trash.
This applies to toys, mostly. Good toys, not even broken ones. Just left lying on the beach. Don't you want those expensive swim goggles any more? What about that shovel? That monster truck? And didn't your pail have a handle when you arrived today? As a parent, I know it can be hard to keep track of your kid's toys, but if they aren't old enough to pick them up when they're through playing, then maybe they aren't old enough to be playing with them unsupervised. I also wonder about the clothing that gets left behind. Were you in so big a hurry to leave that you didn't notice your kid was naked? 

MYTH #5 -- What goes up never comes down, so helium balloons are not trash.
Balloon strings from ONE cleanup.
Sea bird carcass entangled in balloon ribbon.
Not one cleanup day goes by without at least three balloon strings. On a bad day, the take is well over a dozen. Any time I see a balloon release on the news, I cringe. Haven't we been educated about this for decades now? I'm sorry to be graphic, but this bird was so badly entangled in the balloon ribbon that I had to dismember its carcass to get the string off. Please please PLEASE find another way to celebrate. Think of helium balloons as deadly weapons, and treat them accordingly -- because that's what they are.

About a month ago, instead of throwing away the trash my son and I collected (did I mention that this is a great FAMILY ministry?), I brought it home, sorted it by type, and took a photo of it. This is trash we collected in just ONE HOUR. Our beach doesn't look like a trash dump. Most of this stuff is fact, finding it is a little like an Easter egg hunt, and can be quite fun. But it is definitely NOT fun for the creatures that live -- and die -- on the beach.