Riding my trike to the gym last week, I pulled off to the side and picked up a super-sized Styrofoam drink cup from the promenade along North Roosevelt. I’ll admit I’d passed it by at least four times in previous days.
I saw it. I knew it wasn’t going to magically disappear. I didn’t want to bother; I was late for class; someone else’s turn. I passed it by four times as if wondering whether that elusive someone else might step forward. The cup wasn’t going to head seaward; it was entangled in the fencing. It wasn’t going to disintegrate, because, well, Styrofoam. It was just going to sit there. Finally, with a sigh, I picked it up and tossed it in the trash when I got home.
One person picking up trash hardly seems productive in the face of the environmental disasters overtaking the fragile ecosystems of the Florida Keys. Like Sisyphus eternally pushing that boulder up the mountain.
Here’s a partial litany of bad things happening in the Florida Keys:
- sea level rise and worsening flooding;
- sargassum-covered beaches from the deforestation in the South American rain forest;
- dead baby turtles because humans refuse to turn their ocean-side lights off;
- a once-magnificent reef that’s 90 percent dead and vanishing because we dump things in the ocean, the waters are warming and disease is spreading — and, yes, because our reef, which hasn’t been growing well for 3,000 years, can’t keep up with today’s stressors.
- ever increasing part-time residents and visitors creating an imbalance between those who depend solely on the Keys and those who don’t.
In the face of such obstacles, how can one Styrofoam cup matter? Simple. Because if each of the 73,000 or so people who live in the Keys and each of the 2.5 MILLION people who visit annually picked up one piece of trash every day, I suspect we’d be pretty much trash-free. Yeah, one person can make a difference.
Here’s what one person can do:
- Cut back or eliminate single-use plastics and things like paper plates. Use a refillable water bottle. Carry a recyclable or cloth bag with you always for picking up trash, buying veggies, carrying souvenirs. Say “no straw, please” or better still, bring your own multi-use version. Ditch the paper and plastic plates, cups and tableware. Use the real thing and wash it. (And, yeah, I’m good with a set of old-fashioned Melamine dishes that are pretty much indestructible. Use them instead of paper plates. Even at the beach.)
- Use mineral-based sunscreen. It works just fine. The new zinc-only products are safe for people, the fish, the coral and provide great sunscreen. And, they don’t leave that icky white residue anymore. Oh, and they don’t cost more, either. We’re finally seeing some zinc-only products on local shelves.
- Pick up the dog leavings and the cigarette butts. Do I really need to say that? Sigh. Apparently, yes. If you can’t bring yourself to use a reusable bag, then carry a biodegradable bag — for the dog and the butts. Biodegradable bags take three-six months to deteriorate; the plastic ones take hundreds of years.
- Stop buying balloons. Period. No balloons. I don’t care how careful you are, at least one is going to escape and head straight to the ocean to kill things. Mylar is plastic; lasts forever. Those other kind are likely made of synthetics; ditto the lasting forever.
- Use a trash can or take it home. Do not toss it out your window. Really? You can’t figure that out? Given the trash I see on the streets, the beaches, the canals et al, I’m convinced most people are “casual trashers.” Something along the lines of “I’m done with it. Mom will pick it up.”
- Leave it better than you found it. Sure, clean up after yourself, but do more. Pick up after the jerks who left their crap on the neighboring beach towel. And, left the towel and the chairs they bought for $7.99 each. Doing a vacation rental home? Recycle. Put out the trash. Respect your neighbors.
- Sweep the sidewalks and gutters to keep the junk from flushing down the storm drains. That actually happens in my neighborhood. We sweep the streets, pick up the trash curbside and a couple times a year we hose them down. All those leaves and small pieces of paper (and cigarette butts) get shoveled up and either recycled or trashed. They don’t end up in rain and flooding runoff into the ocean. Residents, visitors and business owners ought all be doing the same in their blocks.
That’s seven. Not a one of them expensive, political or fake. Seven easy ways to protect the Florida Keys. And, yes, they will make a difference.
Just pick up one piece of trash. Just one. Make the world a better place.