Monday, May 1, 2017

FOLAR Cleanup 2017

Well in all honesty, I underestimated how fun the cleanup would be. If you were to look at the state of my room, you would immediately know that I am not the kind of person that enjoys picking up after myself, much less other people. But as it turns out picking up trash with other people is rather enjoyable. Maybe it was the people, I'm not entirely sure, it could just be that the river had much more interesting trash than my room, but overall I did find the experience rather enjoyable, something I would willingly give up my free time to do.

The cleanup lasted around two hours and with the blistering heat, the dust rising everywhere making you cough, and the stench, you'd think that it would seem like an eternity. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. I made plenty of friends at the river cleanup and with people joking, racing with shopping carts that they had dug up, and competing in contests of strength and speed, time seems to fly. The river itself was surprisingly dirty, with plastic bags melded to the trees, clothes and shopping carts buried under the sand, and chip bags flying everywhere. I found fence pickets, window shutters, tires, tire flaps, and so much more. It made me realize how little we think of trash and how it all serves to damage the environment. Permanently. Those plastic bags aren't coming out of the trees, and there are likely many more shopping carts buried under the sand. Once trash gets into the environment, it really does not want to come out.

I myself have resolved to watch my waste with more caution, and though I am no environmental preservation crackpot, I have never found it more necessary in my life to make sure that we take care of our planet as best we can. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of the beautiful Earth bestowed upon us. By no means will we be environmentally perfect, by no means will we be able to negate the harms that we have done unto our land, but that is no excuse to not try.

Folar Cleanup

Going into the FOLAR cleanup, my expectations were completely different from what it was actually like. Through our various pre-cleanup discussions and my knowledge from having done a couple of beach cleanups before, I was expecting the stereotypical vibe. However, it was much different than one might believe. Rather than the river being an actual river, there was hardly any water. There was, however, a ton of sand and rocks that made navigating through the area extemely difficult. But the biggest shock to me was that rather than there being lots of trash along the river ready to be picked up, you could barely see any trash at a glance because it was all buried and hidden. I honestly found this to be a bit discouraging, and it was difficult for me to collect a lot of trash simce a lot of it required lots of strength to pull it out of the ground, which I do not have. Nevertheless, the trash I was capable of collecting also shocked me; I was expecting the commonly known soda cans and chip bags, but instead I came across things like electronic accessories, computer parts, and lot and lots of clothes. The overall atmosphere was pleasing, and there was a lot more people and groups than I expected. I genuinely enjoyed the feeling of contributing to the community's cleanliness with others from the community, and I hope to participate again next year.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Trash in the Los Angeles River: Water We Doing Wrong?

As the great philosopher of this generation, Katy Perry, once inquired, "Do you ever feel / like a plastic bag / drifting through the wind / wanting to start again?" After pondering this philosophical question, if you feel like you agree, you may not want to go near the Los Angeles River. There's already too many plastic bags there already.

Going into the FOLAR event, I didn't exactly know what to expect-- but it definitely was not what I saw. I've been to a clean-up before, but it was not nearly as littered with trash as the LA River was last Saturday. Of course there was the typical litter everywhere: chip bags, bottle caps, scraps of paper all around the dirt and rocks. Even weird items that would actually make you laugh when you find them were scattered around, like a full-sized rug or a Scooby-Doo toy. But don't get me wrong, the filth was absolutely disgusting; at some point I even found a used (albeit washed by the river, at least) condom among the rocks. Fun.

Pollution in the River was so bad that the waste became intertwined with the nature. Countless strands of police tape, ripped clothes, and plastic bags twisting around the branches of the foliage, dancing with the wind, pretending they were leaves themselves. At one point I found a shopping cart joined almost symbiotically with a bush such that not only the branches, but also the actual roots of the bush grew in and out of the gaps of the cart, making it impossible to remove it without hurting the plant.

The River was so heavily polluted that after the event was over, I completely changed how I viewed plastic bags. Growing up, we always saved plastic bags to reuse them, and I thought this act in and of itself was just fine. However, after this event, I've come to learn that I absolutely despise plastic bags. Attempting to pick up a half-buried-in-the-sand plastic bag is an absolutely fruitless effort. Once you grab a piece, the bag will tear, giving you only a fraction of what you originally planned to pick up. Now, after this event, I refuse to use a plastic bag whenever avoidable.

As much as I wish I could tell you that the FOLAR event reversed the state of the LA River and give you a handshake or a high-five-- and trust me, I do wish this were the case-- it would simply be dishonest. Even though the River is still trash-ridden after the event, I'm glad that I had the opportunity to participate in cleaning it up. I realize now, how much I take this aspect of my life for granted. Every piece of plastic I throw away. Every recyclable I toss in the trash rather than the recycle bin. I don't take the time to consider where my trash goes or what effects it has. I wish I could single-handedly fix this pollution issue. And in a sense I can... Sort of. After being a part of the FOLAR event, I'm working on how to fix the way I treat my trash-disposal, and plan to volunteer again in the future. Given how many people I saw giving their time and effort into cleaning up a river that many Los Angeles citizens don't know exists makes me a lot more hopeful that through effort and dedication, this issue is one that will be given the attention it deserves and be changed for the better.

Sand Gets Everywhere, But So Does Trash

Somewhere between the beginning of the HNRS 1200 course and the first week of April, I forgot exactly when we would attend the very much discussed FOLAR clean-up event. I had my heart set on potentially attending the March for Science and somehow managed to consistently disregard both the date set on the syllabus for the clean-up and the proposed date for the March for Science. And so it happened that sometime during the beginning of April, I realized that one of the two would have to go. Given that the two events fell on Earth Day, it made sense to me that I should pick the one that would allow me to more actively help the environment. I prepared for the event with great excitement, though a little nervous for what was to come and rather unsure of what to expect.

Upon arriving, the site was nothing like what I had expected. I thought that the area would be more green, but the shrubbery was incredibly underwhelming. What welcomed me instead was dry dirt and sand, plenty of which was kicked up into the air as we walked around. Nor was the river quite as small as I thought it would be prior to the event. Looking down at the river, my fear of heights kicked in and I nearly resigned myself to a fate of picking up the trash along the path while my friends had fun picking up trash together before I finally figured out a way to slowly make my way down to the river. I picked up trash with as much enthusiasm as anyone there--well, I tried to. It definitely did not help that so many pieces of trash were stuck deep in the sand and that the plastic bags caught in the bushes broke off easily, but I gave it my best effort.

After two long hours of navigating unsteady rocks, picking up trash with my friends, and avoiding the occasional wasp, it was finally time to leave. I felt relieved to be out of the hot sun, but that's not to say that I didn't enjoy cleaning up the river. In spite of some of the difficulties I encountered, the clean-up was actually quite fun, and it was exhilarating just knowing that I was doing something to directly contribute to a much larger effort to save our river, rather than simply marching. Lungs full of dust, I headed home, exhausted but feeling good about doing something to make the L.A. River just a little cleaner.

Earth Day

Although I was unable to participate in the river clean up on Earth day, I did contribute by running a promotion at my work. I work at Starbucks, and realizing that we are, unfortunately, one of the contributors to littering due to our cups ending up on the side of the road instead of trashcans, we gave out reusable cups to celebrate Earth day.
It is always so disappointing to see Starbucks cups or straw wrappers on the side of the road. It is even more disappointing because as a company, Starbucks takes great responsibility at ethically using resources. This is why our cup sleeves and napkins are made out of recycled material. Knowing that my work does their part to minimize waste is very satisfying. Also satisfying was being able to give out the cups to our customers, and even more so when they bring their cups back to use.

FOLAR clean-up

I went into this river clean-up expecting one thing and found another.
I thought that I was going to be going to one of the more nature part of the L.A. river to clean up the bed of the river where the water meets the dirt, or to go pick up trash on a nice scenic walkway that runs parallel to the river with lots of people and bikers on the trail... This was not what I walked into.
I went to a less nature area of the river where there was hardly any water in the river at all. I was not expecting to be able to literally walk in the river, it was very sandy.
Despite the change in expectation of location I enjoy the FOLAR river clean-up. It was a great experience that I am glad I was able to participate in.
There were a lot more people there than I expected to be, and quite a large range in age that I was definitely not expecting, there was even a baby strapped to its father's chest.
The actually cleaning of the river was a very dusty job due to the amount of sand from the lack of water in the river. Good thing I wore my black shoes :). A lot of the trash was actually embedded into the river, which I was not expecting. I expected a lot of the trash to be laid out on top as if someone had just thrown the trash there. The embedded trash cause for a lot of digging and pulling to get the trash. I was quite shocked at some of the items found, for example I never would guess that a shopping cart would be buried into the river, thrown on the side next to the river sure, but not buried in it. Or pieces to a computer of car charger. When I think of trash inn a river these pieces are not what comes to my mind. Which makes it quiet shocking and sad to me that people just throw this stuff on the place we live on.
Overall this experiencing was great and unexpected. It was unexpected in the location, the people there and the trash that was found.

Pizza

Before the 22nd, I'd never gone to any sort of clean-up ever. I'd done other volunteer work (at a daycare with two- to five-year-old children), but I'd never done something like this. Like everyone else, I expected the trash to be simply lying along the edge of the river. I definitely didn't expect the trash to be embedded within the dirt and mud at the edge of the river and in the bushes, as much of a part of the landscape as the river itself. This made picking up trash much more difficult than I thought it would be. Picking up a piece of trash meant having to dig into the dirt or untangle it from a branch. At one point, we found a huge blanket that we had to pull from under the dirt. It was probably the hardest workout of my life. It didn't help that it was a hot day.

Though picking up trash certainly wasn't easy, it wasn't miserable. In fact, it was pretty fun. I enjoyed doing something good and spending time with friends. The free shirts were certainly a plus. The highlight of my day, however, was seeing a slice of cheese pizza floating in the river, following the current. I don't know how that pizza got there, but seeing it float like a boat sure made my day.