Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 30, 2006, Herald Journal

I hope you are ignorant

By LIZ HELLMANN

Hey, Stupid.

Did that offend you?

Hopefully it did, but there are much worse things to be called.

I’m not speaking of vulgarities, or trash talk, but just plain trash.

Regarding the issue at hand, I certainly hope people are stupid. Because the ignorant can be taught, but the insolent are doomed.

A few weeks ago, I wrote in article about the Crow River Organization of Water. The organization was formed to monitor and improve the condition of the Crow River and its watershed.

The driving force behind this organization and its volunteers is the idea of taking pride in our natural resources, such as the river.

The water is no good if it is so polluted no one can swim in it, and no wildlife can survive by it.

During the group’s cleanup day last September, six tons of garbage were collected from in and around the river and its watershed.

Six tons!

Items found included car and motorcycle parts, bed frames, propane tanks, steel rods, and the usual glass and plastic garbage.

Shocking as it may be to think of such items in a river, it is not nearly as shocking to me as the imbalance of activity.

In a world where time is precious and efficiency is regarded highly, it seems terribly inefficient to me that 280 volunteers relinquished four hours of their life to pick up that trash. That’s a total of 1,120 hours.

There is another cleanup day scheduled for this year.

Logic might suggest that the volunteers would have a much easier time this year, because the river is minus six tons of trash.

Not while stupid people still roam the earth.

That seems the only viable source for this refuse.

Do people just wake up one day and decide they need a new bed frame and mattress, only to meet the quandary of what to do with the old one?

“Honey, I ordered us a new bed. It should be here at 3 p.m. Could you take the old one out and throw it in the river?”

Maybe they missed environment day at school, or failed to learn what the difference was between a park and a landfill – which, sadly, is getting harder to distinguish.

I understand that natural disasters happen. Tornadoes can destroy houses, and floods can sweep garbage away in the blink of an eye.

But somehow, I don’t think mother nature can be completely blamed.

The big stuff, such as car parts and propane tanks, are certainly disturbing in their own right. But, possibly even more disturbing, is the little stuff, because it is common.

The glass bottles on the side of the road, the fast food bag that suddenly flies out of a car window.

Maybe the wind took it.

Or maybe the person who rolled down the window and threw the bag out is thoughtless, inconsiderate, and apathetic.

The little paper sack is obviously a considerable inconvenience. It would take up too much room to set on the floor.

It might be at least 15 minutes until the person reaches his or her destination.

Are they expected to sit in the car with a bag of trash for that long?

It seems much more reasonable for mother nature and the rest of its inhabitants to deal with it for the next 50 to 80 years (the time it takes a plastic cup to decompose).

On the other hand, no one wants to be seen carrying around a bag of garbage. The difficulty level of finding a trash can ranks right up there with filing your taxes.

One can usually only find garbage and recycling bins inside every school, every shopping store, outside major businesses, and in the grocery store; and most people only have trash cans in about every room in their houses.

It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. If the needle was the size of a telephone pole, and the haystack was a piece of straw on the ground.

If only I could be so insouciant. After all, someone else will clean it up, like the noble volunteers for the Crow River Organization of Water.

Maybe my grandchildren will engineer a way to strip the rivers and natural habitats of the pollution I caused because I was too ridiculously lazy to walk five feet to a recycling bin.

If you think that what you do doesn’t make a difference, I’d like to refer you to the first line of this column.

An ounce of prevention is like a pound of cure. Here are some examples;

• a plastic milk jug takes 1 million years to decompose.

• recycled plastic can be used to make things like trash cans, park benches, playground equipment, decks, and kayaks.

• Americans generate 10.5 million tons of plastic waste a year, but recycle only 1 or 2 percent of it.

• Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every HOUR.

• plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1 million sea creatures every year.

• recycling plastic saves twice as much energy as burning it in an incinerator.

• an estimated 14 billion pounds of trash, much of it plastic, is dumped in the world’s oceans every year.

• about 1,200 plastic soft drink and salad dressing containers could carpet the average living room.

• every year we make enough plastic film to shrink-wrap the state of Texas.

• nearly every piece of plastic EVER made still exists today.

(These facts from www.greenfeet.net.)

If you started reading this column ignorant, I hope you leave it enlightened, and don’t turn inconsiderate. Judging by the need for the river cleanup, we have enough of those people.


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