When the European settlers hit Plymouth Rock in 1620, North America presented newcomers with pristine wilderness, pure water, fresh air and endless top soil for growing food. Across America, anyone could drink from every lake, river or stream without fear of being poisoned. Not one speck of litter of any kind dotted what was to become the United States of America, Mexico and Canada.
Today, in 2011, plastic, glass, rubber, chemicals, metal, paper, oil, gasoline and a growing number of contaminants cover North America. We Americans inject over 80,000 chemicals into the air, land and water 24/7. We toss our trash into rivers, lakes and streams 24/7. We litter the highways with so many booze bottles that driving into the setting sun can blind a driver from the reflected glass in Arizona. We leave old farm equipment, mobile homes and garbage in every nook and cranny of America. I estimate into the billions.
Millions upon millions of Americans have dumped roofing materials, cars, plastics, paints, chemicals, Styrofoam, tires, soiled baby diapers and other debris of every description into pristine forests, beautiful lakes and into every river on this continent.
Ten years ago, I canoed the Mississippi River. During my journey, I filled two bags of trash every day from Lake Itasca, Minnesota down to New Orleans. I saw tractors, cars, sofas, tires, blankets, oil cans and an endless line of glass, aluminum and plastic containers tossed into Old Man River. It disgusted me beyond comprehension. When I wrote a commentary for the Minneapolis-Star Tribune to encourage the Boy and Girl Scouts, Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions Clubs to sponsor massive clean-ups of the 642 miles of the river in Minnesota, they wouldn’t print the 600 word op-ed. When I wrote a 200 word letter to the editor, they would not publish that, either. When I asked the publisher to support a 10 cent deposit/return law like Michigan’s highly successful law—they wouldn’t publish that, also. In other words, they love living in litter and they don’t give a “dam” about the Mississippi River or the wildlife along it.
It’s incredible the industrial and manufacturing forces in this country that will do everything they can to deter any kind of recycling laws in this country. I call it the “Peter Coors Factor” of Coors Beer, which I will discuss later.
As a youth, my dad charged my siblings and me with this rule, “Always leave a place better than you found it when you go camping, hiking or swimming.” To this day, I have picked up over a half million pieces of trash. But it doesn’t do any good because billions of people toss their trash from the Arctic to Antarctica. When I lived and worked in Antarctica, workers at McMurdo threw their trash, too. I picked it up.
If you drive your car along I-70 west of Denver, Colorado, and you stop on the up and down ramps, both east and westbound of exit 254, (Where you get off for Buffalo Bill’s Grave and where you can see the live buffalo herd.)—you will see my six signs, “Please keep the scene clean…respect the land and its beauty…please take your trash to the next fuel-up.” But every two weeks, I walk over 400 yards of rest area and pick up two bags of trash from truckers and automobile drivers. They stop on those ramps, read my signs, and toss their trash. (By the way, thanks goes to the trucker who dropped two $20.00 bills this past Saturday because I found them and will use them to pay for more plastic bags. Thanks for the pleasant surprise.)
In reality, North America has become a giant trash dump. If you travel through the South, you will see countless plastic bags tossed alongside the country roads, rivers and highways. You’ll see old homes and mobile homes rotting everywhere along with the highways and river banks. You’ll see dumps in old towns along the highway. You’ll see homes with trash piled up in their yards. I’ve pedaled my bicycle three times across the south and quite frankly, it’s sickening—especially at 15 miles per hour and endless miles of junk laying everywhere along the routes I traveled.
But don’t let the Northeast, Northwest or Southwest think their citizens are any better. West Virginia suffers horrible trash and cars tossed over the river banks and everywhere in those beautiful mountains. Fast food cups, spoons, tissues, wrappers and plastic bags from every McDonalds, Subways, Domino’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Jack in the Box and so many more dot the landscape in every corner of America.
It’s like everyone “looks” beyond the abandoned oil derricks, old tractors, burned out houses and empty mobile homes. In many towns in New Mexico, junk lines the main street as old tractors, burned out cars and worse. I would mutter to myself, “How can people live like this?” One man I asked said, “They’re just used to it.”
In this series, you’re going to see the ugliness of American citizens, corporate leaders, fast food corporations, oil companies and above all—beverage companies. You’ll find out that they don’t care about the trashing of America and you’ll find out how Peter Coors of Coors Beer undermined Colorado voters to stop the recycling laws. He’s not alone.
You will find out how the lone state of Michigan provides the best leadership with 10 cent deposit laws (5 cents doesn’t cut it in ME, NH, CN, OR and WA because it’s not enough financial incentive) and how the Wolverine State became the finest state in the Union to keep its containers from littering the land.
Additionally, you’re invited to visit www.pickupamerica.com on their two year 3,600 mile trash picking journey across America. Please donate your time or money in their efforts as they speak to communities, schools and church groups to educate our youth and all citizens.
Pick Up America is the brainchild of 25-year-old Jeff Chen and 26-year-old Davey Rogner who are self-proclaimed "pick up artists."
Thus far, their crews along with volunteers have picked up 132,000 pounds of trash. Please realize that they are picking up trash on only one road across America.
"Baltimore, there was a lot of liquor bottles ... you notice these trends," said Chen. "The Eastern Shore of Maryland is always going to be known to us as the home of Natty Light drinkers. The Western Shore of Maryland is ... Bud Light drinkers."
"You notice people drink lots of Pepsi and Coke products," Rogner said. "In Virginia, it's all Mountain Dew; that continued pretty much through Ohio."
We must ask ourselves as a country, with the projected addition of 100 million people by 2035, do we want the commensurate trash that will come with those numbers. We must implement financially based incentive laws for recycling. What are your ideas for that? Send them to me.
One man said, “This is the best way to explore America. I didn’t know that America was so polluted.”