By Walt Williams and the students of Creekside High School Social Responsibility Class.
What do seven plastic bottles, a pair of underwear, a plastic ring, an empty bottle of Stoli vodka, many empty chip bags, lunch trays and ketchup packets, a candy blood bag (yes, this is a thing), two tennis balls, and three green pieces of the shedding T-Mobile tree have in common?
Answer 1: They are not going to end up in the Great Pacific Gyre, washed down Nathanson Creek to San Pablo Bay to San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean where currents eventually take them to a giant convergence zone of garbage swirling above Hawaii like bubbles in a giant hot tub.
Answer 2: They will be on display this week on the SVHS campus in the form of a present and environmental art display.
The students in my Social Responsibility class are trying to come up with a solution to the trash problem both in Nathanson Creek and in the world. We’ve tried other ideas (more garbage cans, public and peer pressure, symbolic art projects) but nothing has worked. This week, we go with a new idea.
“We should throw the trash all over SVHS so that students would have to see it every day.” Explained Cyrus last year. I call it the “New York garbage strike solution” after the 17-day strike in December of 1981 where trash piled up to the point that no one could ignore it.
Trash is a problem; this should not a surprise to anyone.
We are consumers and we love convenience so we package food and products in excessive ways (Lunchables? Really?!?). We also think that once trash is in a garbage can, it goes away. Newsflash people, there is no away.
In 17 years of weekly cleaning of Nathanson Creek (by far my favorite hands-on learning experience of the week), my students have removed about 1200 bags of trash. Enough to fill five average size houses (2500 square feet) or two little theatres (6000 square feet)
Cleaning the creek is not a punishment with my students but a karmic building activity. Do good to the earth and good things will happen to you.
Two years ago I read the most inspiring trash story ever.
I then developed a curriculum around the driving question, “Is plastic making your penis smaller?” You want the attention of a 16 year-old student, start talking about how increasing estrogen levels from plastic pollution leads to earlier menstruation and shrinking penis size. Scary at any age.
But no one listens. The two bags per week will keep coming; the amount of plastic waste will keep growing. Just look at how little attention climate change and pollution are getting from the candidates. Until it’s in our faces and inconveniencing our lives the whole world will remain our trash can.
The present is just a way of getting attention; the real intention is finding a solution.
If you have one, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, the best one will receive a $20 gift certificate at Sonoma Old School. But don’t stop there; be inspired to develop a global answer. Biodegradable packaging? Using social media to create a pollution solution? Installing giant trash collection nets and platforms like the one invented by 19 year-old Boylan Slat?
The future is in your hands.