WHY Pick Up Litter At All?

WHY should we pick up litter at all? WHY does it matter to us that other people litter? WHY should we have a global coastal cleanup at all? Earth Kids have taken to heart the reasons behind the litter madness. South Africa has a litter problem. Africa has a litter problem. The world has a litter problem. What are WE ALL going to do about it?

International Coastal Cleanup

There is an estimated 8 million metric tons (MMT) of plastics entering the oceans every year! How can we sit by and let this happen? According to the Ocean Conservancy, “The story of plastic is the story of all of us. Plastic touches all of our lives, from the food packaging we buy to the computers we work with and the cars we drive. But many of the plastics you touch in your daily life are used only once and thrown away. So much of this plastic is ending up in the ocean that in just a few years, we might end up with a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the sea. But the future of plastics in our ocean will be determined by the way we handle plastics on land.

The International Coastal Cleanup began more than 30 years ago, when communities rallied together with the common goal of collecting and documenting the trash littering their coastline. Could this be “a solution as wide as the ocean itself?” We must all agree that plastic in the ocean is a people problem – which means that everyone on Earth should help to solve it.

Earth Kids Care About Ocean Waste

Earth Kids want to be part of this movement. We have learned that picking up litter is not an enjoyable past-time. In fact, it can be rather ghastly. Picking up other people’s trash is exhausting and disgusting: old cigarette butts, sucker sticks, cool drink cans and sticky beer bottles, used nappies, chocolate wrappers and now, even old masks and plastic gloves!

BUT it makes us think! It makes us think a lot about why WE too are PART of the PROBLEM!? And in the long run, we start to feel useful and grateful to be able to assist our Earth.

Our mission was to join the International Coastal Cleanup 2020 which ran for a week from 14 to 21 September. We decided to be different and to head for the river catchment that leads into the ocean. Earth Kids have made the Else River their responsibility because many of them live in the area and because the river flows through the beautiful Glencairn wetland reserve to the ocean in False Bay.

The Else River is a Source of Life

River catchments and wetlands, estuaries and streams are all part of the water cycle and all affect the ocean eventually. We know that any litter lying in a stream or a wetland near the ocean could eventually end up in the ocean. And even if it does not, it will have disastrous effects on the living things around it.

The Else River flows for 4.16 km from where it rises above Da Gama Park. The river was first called the Elze River in the 1800s. It formed a dangerous and wild estuary where it flowed into the ocean. No one really knows why the river is called the Else River:

  • It could be named after the Rooi Els trees that grew along its banks.
  • It could be named after the ship, the Esselstein, which was also known as the Else, and stopped in Simon’s Bay in 1671. In those days, Simon’s Bay was called Esselstein’s Bay and the Else River was called Esselstein’s River.
  • In 1811 the farm Elsje’s River grew vegetables. Another farm called Elsje’s Baai was operated as a tannery.

A Story of Pollution

Earth Kids first checked out the old source of sewage pollution in Da Gama Park that impacted the Else River only months ago. The hole has been covered and yes, the river runs clear now. Good rains during the Cape winter months have also helped to flush the river. The girls stopped at the top waterfall for a break and found plenty of trash in the river and on the banks: sweet papers, beer bottles, plastic bottles, tissues and more.

Kaely, Amber, Leeya, Sophia and Amelie are passionate about the Earth and how people impact all living things. They are aware of the plastic issue and that we are ALL part of the problem. They asked themselves whether this particular litter came from the shop or from people’s homes or simply from car windows?

“We pick up other people’s litter because we share a planet with them,” says Sophia. “But they must also pick up litter. For example, if you were doing a project with a partner, you both have to do your fair share.” Sophia knows that “we have a global coastal cleanup because those who want to save the planet try to encourage people to rid beaches of the garbage plaguing beaches.”

Their walk continued through huge stands of the alien invasive tree, Port Jackson willow (Acacia saligna), a plight on the landscape in Welcome Glen. Many residents call this foreign Australian visitor the Fire Tree because when and if there are fires, the trees intensify the heat and fan the flames!

The Else River cleanup took the Earth Kids to the second waterfall where they found heaps of old garbage stuck in the banks of the tributary that leads from the storm water drains.

“The reason for a global coastal cleanup is that we are all to blame for litter,” says Amber. “Maybe a plastic bag falls out of your car or a tissue blows out of your bag? Therefore even if we are picking up someone else’s litter, someone else may by picking up ours!”

Kaely feels that any little bit helps, and that it doesn’t matter if we are picking up a little or a lot of it. “By picking it up you are saving a sea animal’s life and making sure that that piece of litter does not end up polluting the sea anymore then it already is!”

She got stuck in clearing the stream and river of all stinky garbage and she deduced that most of the garbage comes from upstream. Garbage collection day in Da Gama Park and Welcome Glen day are messy days. When the baboons arrive to play, garbage tends to blow all over the streets. Baboons raid unlocked bins and seek out tasty morsels left by wasteful people. This has to stop – people need to compost organic waste and lock bins responsibly.

Leeya hit the nail on the head when she noted passionately that “it matters because if we don’t do it and they don’t do it then who will do it??”

That is the main question! “We should have a global coastal cleanup so that the animals don’t have to suffer for what we put in and on the earth!!!!” Leeya is right when she points out that we should all pick up litter that is not ours because if it does end up in the ocean then the animals will eat it and they will die.

All of these earthy girls are right. We can all pick up litter when we find it because we are all part of the waste problem. This is very hard to admit but when we all shop and we all come home with things covered in plastic then we are all part of the litter issue.

“The reason we should pick up litter, even if it’s not ours, is because we are all part of the problem and we buy things wrapped in plastic!” exclaims Amelie. “If you go walking and see plastic, pick it up as it’s better to stop it at the source then to let the wind blow it into the ocean to kill the sea life. And we can all benefit from this with a cleaner earth.”

She sums it up beautifully. THIS is why we should pick up litter at all!

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