Where does your waste go? Do you put it in the bin? Do you toss into a river, the sea? Left in public for someone else to pick up? For some animal to consume?
As the public, we do not take enough responsibility for our rubbish and how we dispose of it. Litter and waste is a growing problem in Ireland and throughout my young years I have noticed the situation deteriorate.
Despite the many ‘green initiatives’ litter seems to have gotten worse.
As a part of the Green Schools Committee here in Ardgillan College (along with volunteers from Balbriggan Community College), my peers and I decided to take the initiative and make a change. Our desire for change sparked our trip to Balbriggan Beach to do the decent thing for our community and pick up litter.
The beach is a place to love, to enjoy and for families and friends to make memories to last a lifetime. Think of your most vivid memories of summer? Are they from the beach? It is not a public dump or a place for people to hide harmful rubbish at the expense of other people and animals. Our initiative involved cleaning the beach and removing the waste. To where it should be. A bin!
Many volunteers from my school and also Balbriggan Community College took part in the beach clean up which took place over two hours one early morning. We were equipped with gloves, bags, litter pickers and most importantly, teamwork and a sense of purpose.
The low tide allowed us to find some extra objects which may have been invisible under the high tide.
There was an array of objects, ranging from small finds such as cigarettes and muddy scraps of paper, to plastic bottles, vapes and batteries, to larger finds such as tires, a huge piece of carpet, and what seemed to be an unending amount of disposable coffee cups. The beach seems to be a popular place amongst smokers, with cigarettes being our most common find by a large margin, scattered over the beach in all directions and in every nook and cranny.
A large tire was discovered in the sand and with some hard labour it was removed from the sand and taken to a nearby bin. The rug was hidden behind high tide for what must have been weeks with the amount of sand it held and how far into the sand it was lodged. With a large amount of pulling and pushing, it was also successfully removed and disposed of, never to have another small animal become stuck in it again.
The litter we found like disposable vapes, coffee cups and carpet can be very dangerous towards animals and humans, for reasons such as the one I mentioned above and many others. Animals may mistake plastic and wool as food and consume it, only to become sick or possibly choke on this harmful material. This is a larger problem than it sounds as this can break into micro plastics inside the animal and make its way through the food chain.
This has started to happen recently with micro plastics being found inside human bodies. Micro plastics can find themselves in fish which can quickly find themselves on our dinner plates. Plastic bags were a common find and are a non biodegradable material, meaning they do not break down and remain a harmful nuisance for hundreds of years.
Tissues were also a quite common find, and whilst not being as large a problem as plastic because they are often biodegradable. However, they are still a visual problem and make beaches not as appealing or as good of an atmosphere to be in. Paper can blow in the wind easily and become a problem to wildlife if it ends up in the wrong place, like many other materials, it could also be consumed and this could damage wildlife and the fragile ecosystem around us.
How big has the litter problem become?
The way we dispose of our waste is a big contributor to climate change. Our waste often goes to landfill, poisoning the habitats of animals (and humans). Animals are losing their habitats at extreme rates and extinction is happening faster than ever seen before. According to WWF and Zoological Society of London’s biennial Living Planet Report, around two-thirds of the world’s wildlife has been lost since 1970.
The Earth is also estimated to have lost half of its shallow water coral in the last 30 years. One fifth of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in just 50 years. Climate change has been the biggest contributor to this. Over the last years, we have begun to see climate change and global warming affect us on a more localised, personal level when in the past it has often seemed like a problem for other people, people far away from us..
This summer Ireland experienced its hottest temperature in recorded history in July. The Earth’s scenic beauty is taking hits and the agricultural industries are finding it harder to grow food and feed the growing population. Polar bears and other organisms living in the arctic are losing ice and losing space to live and hunt. They struggle to find places to rest while hunting in the freezing temperatures of the waters in the arctic circle.
Wildfires have also become much more common, they are also caused by the increasing temperatures of the Earth. These commonly occur in places like Australia, the south of Europe and the United States of America. With increased drought as well, they can be extremely hard to combat and people can lose lives, homes, farms and extremely large amounts of forests (forests which clean our air!). This decreases air quality and results in devastating biodiversity loss. People living in areas prone to this can lose everything.
While in California just this summer, I experienced first hand the horrors of wildfires in Mariposa County. While visiting Yosemite National Park, a large oak fire broke out nearby. We continued to the park anyway going by a longer route, but the fire grew bigger and the views of the park were compromised by a blood-red sky and growing levels of unrest and distress amongst visitors.
Upon returning to the town, it was almost like a purge which people moving around, lots of talking, and petrol stations full with people fuelling to go help those stuck near the fire. As the fire grew bigger and bigger in our line of sight, the town became more stressed and frankly, horrifying.
The actual flames could be seen by the side of the road that could not have been more than couple of kilometres away. When we got to our Air BnB lodge, we saw the worst. Neighbours were all leaving and there was a strange amount of darkness, the results of a power cut. We left early to San Francisco moments later and will never forget what we saw.
This is the reality for people day in and day out in these areas, a constant feeling of fear and what could happen in just a few moments. These people are directly affected by our actions and whether or not we take action against this issue. It’s a terrible thing to realise, that even while living across the world, you can help or hurt other people just through your daily choices.
If you are wondering now what you can do to help yourself, your closest friends and family, those animals on the ground and in the ocean, and those people all the way in Mariposa, California there are some small steps you can follow.
Put your litter in the bin! If there’s not a bin in sight, hold it in your pocket until you find one nearby.
Turn off lights and other electronics when you are finished using them to preserve energy for everyone else and avoid using fossil fuels where possible.
Simple actions like walking, cycling or taking public transport can make a huge difference.
As a walker myself, I can personally say that walking to school helps wake me up in the morning and is a good way to get some fresh air and exercise.
If you have a friend that can also walk to school, try to convince them, it is always great to talk a bit before school or work. Public transport like the train can avoid traffic and can give you time to read, listen to music or do some work.
If you are a teen or student and use a leap card there has been a recent price cut which makes the train (and buses!) very affordable.
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