Garbage Dump Wherever

Whenever I’m faced with the actions of others I don’t like, I always strive to understand what lies behind that behaviour. I don’t always find it easy and sometimes I struggle to touch that understanding. I had such a case this last weekend on a short trip to the mountains in a remote part of Romania. Before I go any further, I want to be clear I don’t consider this unique to Romania and I suspect there are many places in the world where I would be confronted with something similar.

A river of trash

I took this picture on our return journey where the road followed a fast flowing river at the bottom of a deep winding gorge. The river starts in a National Park of quite outstanding beauty. Except for the litter!  We’d travelled up in the dark and I’d already noticed the huge number of  discarded soda bottles and cans by the roadside up into the mining area on the edge of the park.  The region has suffered from decades of neglect and under-funding with many people living in housing D. H. Lawrence would have been quite familiar with.

It was the drive back that horrified me. Everywhere I looked there were plastic wrappers, bottles, cans, old clothes and packaging of every possible description. It was discarded by the side of the road and adorned the trees and bushes lining the river. Where the river slowed down, seas of bottles had accumulated and in some places I couldn’t see the branches for plastic wrapping and old clothes. Kilometre after kilometre of trash.

I was mesmerised and just couldn’t take my eyes away and at some places felt sick in my stomach. The three people I was travelling with, all Romanian, were equally appalled. Maybe more so, because this is their country.

I don’t know for sure, but I guess the roadside litter was thrown from the windows of passing cars and the rest of the garbage thrown directly into the river. I have no idea who put it there, the local inhabitants, visitors, or both. What I’m sure about is this amount of waste was not from a small number of people, but thousands and thousands.

The world is my home

That rubbish will stay there until it’s picked up by someone or decomposes. A plastic bottle takes up to 1,000 years to decompose and one made of glass up to 4,000 years. If I throw away my empty bottle by the side of a path, each person following that path will be faced with my garbage possibly until the year 6009.

I share this world with each and every one of you. If I don’t care about the world I live in, indirectly I demonstrate my lack of care for you. The only conclusion I can form is the thousands of people who left their rubbish in this place simply didn’t care about their home – or about me or you.

And that’s a hard conclusion to swallow.

My optimistic side tells me this disregard stems from ignorance and rarely from wilful vandalism or a vindictive attempt to damage the countryside and the plants and creatures living there.

Winding down the window and dumping this stuff, I’m guessing they didn’t ask themselves:

  • how long will this bottle stay there?
  • where will this bottle go?
  • who will clean it up?
  • how many other people will see this litter?

I really hope this is the result of plain ignorance and just not thinking about the impact of their actions.

What to do about it?

The streets in Warsaw where I live are immaculate as they’re cleaned of litter daily. But I don’t need to go far, into the courtyards, the hidden and less obvious places, to find litter.

Is it just in Eastern Europe, or is it everywhere?

I know I take for granted the streets will be kept clean but it’s really not the city government’s responsibility. It’s mine – and yours. It’s up to me to care for the world I live in, to make sure, as far as I can, that I’m not polluting  it and to educate my children to treat the whole world as their home.

I can make a difference myself by picking up other people’s litter and putting it in the trash. I shouldn’t have to, but the other option is to complain about it and not do anything. I’m not going to use all my free time scouring the countryside collecting litter, but I can walk over to the discarded paper bag in my courtyard rather than wait for someone else to pick it up, or moan about the people who left it there.

My mother is a great example of someone who does this. Whenever she sees litter she picks it up and puts it in the bin, calmly and without complaining.

If the majority were to do the same then the litter would eventually stop. It may take many generations, but we have until 6009 to do something about it.

If we all start to treat the world we live in as an extension of our home, those of us who value tidiness will keep it tidy. And I believe those who litter and pollute the world will eventually change.

Because deep, deep down we all know in our hearts that we share this planet with 6 billion others and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to take good care of the world.

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