Saturday, May 23, 2009
Last Saturday I participated in It's My Park Day at Astoria Park, and helped clean up a stretch of East River beach and shoreline, opposite the War Memorial in the park. The clean-up was sponsored by Green Shores NYC, The Astoria-Long Island Waterfront Parks Alliance. It was the first time I participated in a shoreline cleanup, and that has been on my to-do list for years.
Going in, I had fantasies of recycling all the plastic, glass and aluminum drink containers that so often get tossed from the walkway above the shoreline. As it turned out, this wasn't possible. We were told that since they had been exposed to the elements, these items could contaminate recycling batches and therefore weren't recyclable-- instead they were bagged with the rest of the trash. I was disappointed to learn this, but still happy that at least we had the chance to get them out of the park and away from the River.
We were provided with 2 sets of gloves (a plastic set and a pair of cotton work gloves) a black garbage bag and some safety instructions, like: leave glass there (it eventually turns back to sand), stay away from sharps and medical waste, leave heavy items and alert the organizers so a team could go after those later, more that I can't remember but in general use your judgment and be safe. Then we were sent down a ladder and turned loose on the shoreline.
I identified two streams of trash in the area we were cleaning: stuff that washed up from the East River, and litter that was dropped from the walkway. Of the stuff that was washed up from the river, a lot of it was broken glass. Like I said, the beach makes a pretty tinkling noise when there are waves, and the glass bits are in varying states of being worn back to sand by the river. There was also a lot-- a LOT-- of styrofoam. Some were identifiable as broken bits of floating docks and ice chests discarded at the beach or lost from boats, others were funny discolored chunks that were worn and looked like rocks and pebbles, but weren't. Lots was really tiny, and not worth bending down to pick up-- though if I was already down to grab something else, I'd go after whatever small bits I could. It would be interesting to sit down in a small area with a screen and do some digging, like an archaeologist. In areas where stuff collected from the waves you could tell there were several layers, and we were only getting at what was on top. Aside from glass, styrofoam and general flotsam, the things I remember picking up from the beach near the water were a computer mother board, a red velvet cushioned seat, possibly from a boat (actually that was too heavy, but someone eventually did get it off the beach), and a blue plastic star-- I kind of wish I'd saved that or gotten a picture.
Most of the trash that I collected came from the section of shoreline by the walkway, and most of that was beverage containers and food trash. Lots of Mister Softy and Dunkin' Donuts cups and straws, lots of plastic water bottles and even more caps. In areas where there was foliage and layers of dead leaves, I could hear the crunch of plastic under my feet and knew that if I did some digging, there was lots more to be found. But by this time I was working on the "broken window" theory-- only instead of crime and vandalism, I was trying to prevent littering. If we could pick up the visible trash, I figured, people on the walkway would see a clean stretch of shoreline and might not be tempted to throw down trash. Whereas if they see trash already down there, they might feel free to treat the area as a dump. Just typing that makes me sad. Memorable items, aside from the food & beverage trash: a frisbee, a broken bracelet, and a miniature liquor flask on a belt chain, another item I sort of wish I'd saved.
In all I picked up two very full bags of litter before succumbing to allergies and calling it a day. My allergies aren't that bad, but digging around in the foliage caused me to inhale a lot of pollen and I was coated in it head to toe; much coughing ensued! My personal plastic waste for that day: 2 large trash bags and a pair of plastic gloves. I'm not counting the plastic I picked up. I had a sore back for a couple of days, but the satisfaction of doing my bit more than compensated for the temporary discomfort. Though next time I plan to take one of those grabber thingies...and a friend or two.
If you are interested in participating in future events sponsored by It's My Park Day or Green Shores NYC, please check out the links. Not in NYC but want to volunteer for a shoreline cleanup? Check out The Ocean Conservancy, which sponsors an International Coastal Cleanup and can connect you to shoreline cleanups in your area-- and not just for oceans!