Facing up to a filthy global habit

Michael Johansen
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Picture yourself in the country of Greece, where the sun is warm, the ruins are ancient and the tidy villages are whitewashed beside a sparkling turquoise sea. Follow a path that leads up into the hills; come to a promontory high above the water and land; pause to gaze out over the Aegean and marvel at the peace and beauty of the scene.

Now, look down at your feet and get ready to hold your breath. Nine times out of 10, you'll be standing on a garbage dump. Old ripped newspaper pages blow past flies clustering on nameless rotting things, while a large heap of plastic bags and kitchen trash shifts suspiciously all on its own.

Perhaps the government of the pretty village at the bottom of the hill provides its citizens with regular pickup, but many people like to take care of their garbage on their own - even if it costs them lots of time and effort and blights the landscape.

This isn't about dumping (so to speak) on the Greeks for being so careless with their natural heritage. The point is that if littering happens in such a marvelous place as Greece - tourist haven and cradle of western democracy that it is - it should come as no surprise that littering takes place in every country on Earth, including in Canada and especially, apparently, down the back roads outside of St. John's.

Unfortunately, nobody on this planet is free of the unsightly habit of tossing trash, although (to give them their due, perhaps) the people of Newfoundland and Labrador seem to be particularly good at it.

In fact, back in Clyde Wells' day, the provincial government had to hire someone full time just to find all the cars abandoned on the Avalon Peninsula. She could have been kept busy for decades, had the money lasted.

Littering, as anyone who does it or observes it already knows, can and does happen everywhere, no matter how crowded or how remote from people.

Neither is it just big stuff like hopelessly broken automobiles that get tossed; nor do the piles of smaller trash always get concentrated beside dirt roads or on the tops of scenic hills.

An immense amount of litter is released singly into the wild, left on its own to fly and be free, to sail on the winds and the waves, to finally spread throughout what remains of the natural world.

There are today few places closer to nature than Labrador, yet even here, a mere kilometre of wooded shoreline can yield an impressive winter's harvest of three chip bags, an old red rubber boot (women's size), a cardboard ammunition box and an empty shotgun shell, a cigarette package, a very long blue-striped straw, a pastry wrapper, a pink ribbon, a broken pink plastic knife, some paper, a large chunk of Styrofoam and three smaller pieces of a Styrofoam meat tray.

Also, a quantity of plastic sheeting, a motor oil bottle without a lid, two large laundry soap bottles (only one marked as a fishing buoy), two beer bottles, one shot-up pop can, a water bottle with no label and the tattered remains of maybe three plastic grocery bags.

Fortunately, of all the filth that humans spew into the environment, litter is probably the least dangerous to us and to other life - although the thought of a massive floating island of plastic swirling at the heart of the Pacific Ocean is hardly encouraging.

Mostly, litter is a symptom of a larger, more serious problem, and it's proof that we can't just blame greedy mega-corporations like British Petroleum (and many others) for poisoning the natural world - and ourselves. We're all responsible, and that means we can all stop it.

To prove that, there was one change carried on the waves this spring. If littering is a symptom, then it's showing signs of improvement. Even a year ago, there wasn't only two or three shopping bags washed ashore. There were dozens of them.

The growing acceptance of reusable bags is a small step, perhaps, but at least it's in the right direction.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: British Petroleum

Geographic location: Greece, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada St. John's Clyde Pacific Ocean

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Recent comments

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    The hard must become habit. The habit must become easy. The easy must become beautiful. ~Doug Henning

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    The hard must become habit. The habit must become easy. The easy must become beautiful. ~Doug Henning