The first step in solving any systemic problem involves local community solidarity. For a problem as big as the weakened relationship between humans and the planet they share with other living things, Earth Day cleanups are a great start. The Bayonne community held its Earth Day celebration on April 27, during which hundreds of people picked up trash at several parks throughout the city.
“The earth is polluted. By the year 2050, we’re going to be up to here in plastics,” said local real estate agent, Miriam Holgium, indicating her neck. “So, we have to do something about it and lead by example to teach the kids to do something about it.”
According to the journal Science, between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. Bayonne residents probably will not make much of a dent in that number. That’s why the cleanup is about a lot more than preserving natural resources for future human use. The objective of Bayonne’s Earth Day cleanup is ostensibly to pick up trash. But the significance of participating in a common effort for a purpose larger than oneself or one’s community was not lost on the participants.
Bag the bags
“When you clean the environment, it makes the world happier.” — Gabi, age 9
“When you clean the environment, it makes the world happier,” said Gabi, 9, who was cleaning with classmates from the Polish Supplementary School at 16th Street Park. “I feel like it helps the environment a lot.”
The way we think of trash is beginning to change along with the popularity of community cleanups. Many see trash as non-biodegradable material discarded anywhere but a trash can. Many communities are starting to ban single-use plastic bags at grocery stores in acknowledgement that plastic bags are bound to become trash eventually, and should be considered trash before even being used. A plastic bag ban in Jersey City, for instance, starts on June 1.
“We need a plastic bag ban in Bayonne. They’re always trash,” said Holgium. “We can change the environment with fewer plastics and carbon emissions.”
“I think we should all carry some bags instead of getting 20 plastic bags at the grocery store. They get everywhere,” said Kamilla Domansky, Grand Marshal of the Pulaski Day Parade in Bayonne, who was leading the group of students from the Polish Supplementary School. Students in her group were cleaning along the shore of Newark Bay, where they found a lot of plastic bags and bottles, and a basketball.
“It’s important for the young generation to carry on tradition. We have to show youth how important it is. It teaches them to participate in civic events, care about the environment, and take pride in their city. Cleanups make the city more beautiful.”
More than plastic
The international discussion surrounding climate change tends to center around carbon emissions and lower dependency on fossil fuels (which are used to create plastics). Local governments cannot regulate carbon emissions, but they can help discourage people from using carbon-emitting cars, encourage energy-efficient buildings, and control the amount of untreated sewage seeping into surrounding natural waterways.
Look for our next Local Earth installment on May 9. It will cover efforts to preserve clean water through green and grey infrastructure.
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