Well, insane is maybe a little too strong a term, but definitely drastically eccentric. Funny – I thought I was a pretty grounded individual running my own journalism-slash-media business, not bumming off taxpayers, thinking globally, acting locally and generally being a pretty good citizen.
Some people have even begun to abuse me, aggressively questioning my motives before discovering the actual purpose of my day’s outing and becoming somewhat perplexed, if not entirely flabbergasted. So where’s this ramble going?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been environmentally and compassionately aware, far beyond what my nonetheless wonderful parents taught me. When I was 15 I got a part time job solely so that I could buy my own groceries and become vegetarian (my mum’s argument was that she couldn’t afford the extra cost and didn’t want to cook two meals). I would boycott the family tradition of betting on the Melbourne Cup, citing animal rights and the gross abuse and negligence displayed by the industry. I all but ostracised myself from friends and family in protest of what I saw as their unethical ways. And I guess it all became a bit of a habit.
Litter has always frustrated me, the shear arrogance and ignorance of those people who discard litter seemingly with the opinion that it vaporises the instant it leaves their hand. I have never been able to understand their mentality. I have run after ‘tossers’, their trash in my hand, and eagerly and excitedly proclaimed, “I’m so glad I caught you, you dropped this. I’d hate for you to lose it!”
So a couple of years ago I rescued a dog. Okay, I didn’t run into a burning building after him or plunge into shark-infested waters to haul his bedraggled body back to dry land, but I did my bit for lessening the problem of strays. So now I had a beach buddy – my first step on the road to insanity. Our good council are kind and thoughtful enough to provide rolls of biodegradable doggie bags with which to collect our canines’ land mines and pretty soon I expanded my collecting from my dog’s faecal offerings to the swathe of trash that littered the surrounding beaches, accelerating my journey to the looney bin. But this wasn’t enough.
The pocket-sized packages weren’t nearly capacious enough to contain the wealth of trash I was collecting, so I began taking first shopping bags with me and then extra large bin bags. Unfortunately for my little pooch, this was the demise of the puppy walks. With my focus on garbage I could no longer throw balls, play chase or spare time and attention on my canine companion. I was already getting odd looks, but the final stitch in the straight-jacket came when I realised I had to separate the two outings: pup would get a walk in the morning, litter would be my quarry in the afternoon.
So now, at least once a fortnight, I target a different stretch of beach and go completely loco. A few weekends ago it was Wategos. This happened to coincide with a big clean-up on Byron’s Main Beach. Friends told me they’d see me there because, of course, this litter-picking fanatic was going to be at such an orchestrated event. But this was my response: if everyone’s focussing on Main Beach, who’s going to look after the other beaches? So, bags in hand, I tackled the ‘pristine’ little bay of the nouveau riche and glitterati on my lonesome. Eight bags – plus three loads of oversized garbage that wouldn’t fit. Eight bags – from shower block to cape. Eight extra large, industrial-sized garbage bags from this exquisite little cove. There was so much trash, in fact, that I ran out of bags and had to go and see a very lovely, very obliging waitress at Rays Restaurant to ask if she could provide me with more.
And this isn’t a unique haul: Brunswick, Ocean Shores, Belongil, Main Beach, the lighthouse walk, Tallows – all I have trawled and all have provided an equally voluminous plunder. Our beaches, of which we are so proud, are disgusting! But here’s the thing that really perplexes me: it’s not the dropping of litter in the first place – this can be accounted for by socially indoctrinated blindness. It’s not the accumulation – much is jetsam, washed in from some far shore or vessel by the ocean’s ebb and flow. It is that people look upon me as an eccentric nut job, a screw-loose weirdo doing something so unfathomably strange that they just can’t comprehend it.
People ask me what I’m doing, fair enough, but then they ask me why I am doing it. Why would I clean up our environment? Why would I prevent the suffocation of turtles, the strangulation of seabirds and the pollution of marine life? Why would I do my little part in this wonderful world to stop man’s continual impact on nature’s beauty? Hmmm…well, gosh, I just don’t know.
Some have even approached me, fired up and ready to fly, thinking I-have-no-idea-what and questioned me accusingly as to what the hell I’m up to. I have teeth marks permanently embedded in my lower lip from a bid to not retaliate. I guess they believe I’m stealing sand, hoarding sea shells or filling my bin bag with – ummm – something illegal? But, for all their arrogance and self-righteousness, they have not one single fragment of garbage in their empty, finger-pointing hands. Is it Clean Up Australia Day? Hey, how about Clean Up Planet Life…
Most of us are blessed with two working eyes, two functioning hands and the ability to make them communicate. Unfortunately, many of us lack a conscience. But this isn’t an accusatory rant and, if you have read this far, I offer my sincerest gratitude. When I’m on my little litter missions and people strike up conversation I always say the same thing: “Thank you, with all my heart, for noticing what I am doing.” It is not that people need to be berated for their bad actions or negligence – abuse is rarely a good means of persuasion – it is that we need to remove our blinkers, reverse the blindness that society has created and recognise litter as ours, all of ours, no matter what it is or where it came from. I guess that’s a metaphor for many a planetary problem…
A great guy by the name of Tim set up an organisation called Take 3 and I urge you to check it out (www.take3.org.au). His method is not to tell people to pick up everything – in our western mentality, that’s not our responsibility and far too much like hard work. It is to take three pieces of trash with you whenever you leave the beach or any natural environment. Just three little pieces, no more – it’s a small ask, so easily accomplishable, but it changes our awareness, opens our eyes to the problem and admits our responsibility, as an entire species, to the planet’s cleanliness.
So, if this little tale is an admission of insanity then call me cuckoo and check me in – I’m an absolute fruit-loop. I just hope it’s contagious.
NB: If you have seen me doing my crazy thing on the beach, thank you. Thank you for noticing, for actually seeing. If you have said something to me, stopped and found out why I do what I do, you have my utter and endless gratitude – YOU are making the difference. Thank you.
This story has been submitted by someone who cares, and wishes to remain anonymous
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Sep 10, 2013