I recently joined a very friendly group of volunteers in a river clean up along the Hudson in Upper West Side, Manhattan.
Arriving alone, I was a little bit nervous about being in the new neighbourhood and meeting a group of people I didn't know. But I needn't have been, the group was really lovely and we set to work cleaning up pretty quickly.
Luckily for me, I made a new friend and we spent the whole time cleaning as a duo. One of us ticked a checklist of items while the other picked up litter, then we swapped over.
Photo courtesy of United by Blue
The team was lead by Riverside Park and United by Blue, a New York based clothing company who like to help the environment, rather than destroy it (like a lot of other clothing companies do!). They pick up a pound of rubbish for every item of clothing they sell - a nice philosophy indeed. They provided snacks (which were in plastic wrappers, but luckily I had been prepared and brought an apple to munch), refills of water, and very generously, reusable cups as keepsakes. They even gave us a token for a free pair of organic cotton socks from their store as a thank you. I told you they were nice!
Freebies - photo courtesy of United by Blue
The cleaning up itself was actually a lot harder than I had expected. We were on the river bank which was full of boulders, so there was a lot of scrambling around. That was pretty fun, but after a couple of hours of tugging at trapped plastic bags, stretching to reach old styrofoam cups lodged in the gaps of the rocks, pouring out rancid liquid from old bottles and balancing on tree branches to untangle plastic rope, I was starting to get a major pain in the neck!
After three hours of picking up unpleasant crap from the water and ground, the group had made great progress. This was the end of our clean up, but sadly there were still plenty of bits we hadn't managed to get. Sometimes they had been too trapped or too broken down and tiny to pick up (particularly styrofoam). It was a real life demonstration of how plastic does break down... but it doesn't biodegrade.
In case you were wondering, the most common items my buddy and I collected were:
Straws - so many straws!!!
Bottle tops are a big offender (thankfully they would have mostly broken down eventually without our help)
- photo courtesy of United by Blue
This stuff definitely had to be removed. Look at all the plastic bags in the background!
Photo courtesy of United by Blue
Clean up crew, hard at work - photo courtesy of United by Blue
Collected waste - photo courtesy of United by Blue
The most annoying bit of rubbish was a huge cluster of colourful metallic plastic confetti, sprinkled and trodden in all over the grass. Saying things like 'Congratulations' and 'Happy birthday', they were a somber reminder of how a moment's careless excitement can have so much negative impact on the environment. Don't get me wrong, I love a celebration, but it's a shame that these types of confetti exist over more environmentally friendly versions (paper, flower petals, even rice)!
The whole event made me sad to see how little some people care about picking up after themselves. But we all felt really proud of ourselves for helping to make a difference and, with the help of 'wierdest trash' and 'guess the weight' competitions, we had quite a lot of fun in the process!
I'm so happy to have been involved with such an event and will be looking forward to more in the future. My involvement is thanks to my plastic-free lifestyle, I probably wouldn't have considered something like this in the past.
The clean up crew - photo courtesy of United by Blue
Rewards! My lovely new United by Blue organic cotton socks
My reusable cup - now I take it everywhere along with my reusable straw from the Package Free Shop
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