For my community service project, I decided to pick up trash in local parks. My main reason for choosing this was that it allowed me to set my own schedule, and work around my heavy course load this semester. I haven’t done much community service, so the experience was relatively new to me. Despite that, walking around with a trash bag was not an especially foreign experience.
At first, I had planned to visit Sycamore park, Hidden Cove park, and the Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve, but after visiting the first two, it became clear that there wouldn’t be much for me to do there, as I couldn’t find a significant amount of trash to pick up. The Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve, on the other hand, was in dire need of some cleanup, so that’s where I ended up spending most of my time.
Anyone who lives near the CSNP knows that, despite closing at dusk, the park at night is a popular hangout for kids to drink and do drugs. There are a couple of areas with seating where most of this seems to take place, and these were, unsurprisingly, the areas with the most trash, despite the fact that trash cans have been placed less than ten feet from most of these spots. The trash seemed to have been building up there for some time, but these areas were relatively quick and easy to clean, since most of the trash was too recently discarded to have begun sinking into the mud. The bulk of the trash I gathered was from these spots, but the bulk of my time was spent further down the trail, by the creek. The creek was time consuming because so much small trash had been washed into it, most of which was half-buried in the banks. There were also some unusual pieces of litter, such as a lawn mower and a tire, that were too large for me to retrieve myself. I can’t imagine how those ended up in a creek without somebody intentionally putting them there, which is a bit disheartening.
As I wandered through the park picking up trash, I thought about the tendency of littering and pollution to reinforce themselves; very few people will litter in a pristine park, but once there is trash on the ground, more people are willing to add to it, reasoning that “everyone else is doing it, so does it really matter if I do too?” The more trash on the ground, the fewer people will avoid littering, and so small messes snowball into large messes rather quickly. On the other hand, this means that with regular maintenance, a park’s cleanliness can be maintained with very little effort, since a clean park is less likely to attract litter. Many problems in our society behave this way; They start out small and easy to manage, but if left unattended too long, they can start to seem insurmountable. Too many of these problems are left to volunteers to solve, and, due to the fact that most volunteers can’t commit time regularly, the problems end up growing much more difficult to solve. It seems more logical to hire a small staff to regularly address these issues, thereby reducing the difficulty to something trivial, rather than a grueling day of work once every few months. For now, though, we have to rely on volunteers to address these problems infrequently, so we see cycles of gradual decay followed by frantic efforts to repair the situation, followed by more gradual decay until the situation once again reaches becomes critical enough to warrant volunteers’ efforts.