Cleaning up the River

Two weeks ago, I posted this open letter to people who left their trash alongside the beautiful Cowpasture River.

Last weekend, I went back there to join a group of a dozen people who spent an afternoon collecting trash along the same river. We donned our “trash hunter” uniforms, gathered two orange trashbags each, and headed out into the bushes.

The bushes surrounding the campsites are actually the places where most of the trash is hidden: beer and soda bottles, a variety of plastic containers (including gallon size which equals 4 liters), plastic tampon applicators, crumbling aluminum foil, cardboard remnants from beer six-packs, plastic rings from beverage containers, flashlight battery, even a telephone battery…. amazing what people bring with them and then discard.

I came across a list indicating the life of various products before they decompose:

paper towels: 2 – 4 weeks
banana peel: 3 – 4 weeks
paper bag: 1 month
wool sock: 1 – 5 years
milk carton: 5 years
tin can: 50 years
foam cups: 50 years
aluminum can: 200 – 500 years
disposable diaper: 550 years
plastic bottles: 450 years
plastic bags: 200 – 1000 years

I don’t know how people calculated that plastic would last 500+ years considering plastic was not even invented until recently… In any case, these numbers are eye-opening. Do we really want to leave traces of our camping trip for generations to come?

After grumbling about every piece of trash I found and deposited in my trash bag, I began to shift my attitude. The day was windy but phenomenally beautiful. The river’s green water was framed by flowering shrubs such as dogwoods and pink azalea.

Wildflowers bloomed everywhere…

and I got to be outside with a bunch of like-minded people enjoying the scenery and getting some exercise. In the process, we left the place much cleaner than we found it. Here is our combined “loot:”

Trash collection

Trash collection

trashbag close-up

Yes, that was a frying pan in there!

And here is the entire crew that committed their Sunday afternoon to cleaning up along the river:

Clean-up crew

Clean-up crew

The river we now call Cowpasture was originally named “Wallawhatoola” by Native Americans. It means “The River That Bends.” Here is to a beautiful Wallawhatoola!

Wallawhatoola t-shirt

Wallawhatoola t-shirt

For more posts about “rivers”, see Ailsa’s River Travel Theme.

About Beauty Along the Road

A blog about discovering beauty in all its ordinary and extraordinary manifestations.
This entry was posted in Appalachia, Flora, Healing Ourselves and the Planet, Travel Theme Challenge and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Cleaning up the River

  1. Dina says:

    You did a GREAT job! Frustrating though, what people leave behind. Shame on us all for leaving anything else than footsteps behind us!
    In Norway there’s a discussion on banning all plastic bags. Starting with the shops.
    Have a great weekend.


  2. Loca Gringa says:

    Inspiring! Wish you could get the troops going here to clean up this paradise. I’ve never seen so much garbage NOT in a landfill 😦 And I so love my adopted home. Yet, the people, locals, go to the beach and think nothing of cooking next to all the litter …


  3. indacampo says:

    We have a problem with plastic washing up on the beaches here. It’s brought in on the high tide and gets caught in the driftwood further up the shore. The beaches set back in coves don’t seem to have as much because it’s more difficult for the tides to bring it in.

    We often wonder where all of it comes from, it can’t all be from beach users. We’ve hypothesized that because we are on the path in and out of the Canal quite a bit of it comes from the ships and other water craft and that some of it floats on the tide from Panama City.

    Panama is also very “plastic friendly”. One thing that they could really do to reduce the mess is to ban the plastic shopping bags. They seem to double bag everything which make the problem doubly worse.

    Great post and beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing!


    • I have often wondered just how much trash gets dumped by the large ships. Sorry to hear that you are at the receiving end there of so much trash. Do you have a group of people that is willing to do routine clean-ups? I know it’s just a drop in the bucket considering the omnipresence of trash….thanks for your informative and detailed comment.


      • indacampo says:

        There are groups that occasionally go out but unfortunately it was a lot of Expats and not so many locals. The last time they went out it was the reverse trend thanks to the young fellow that was running for mayor. Luckily he won and we’re hoping some of the apathy about keeping our beaches and countryside clean around here will change.


  4. Tish Farrell says:

    Well done, all of you.


  5. Wow, what dedicated work you did!


  6. mpejovic says:

    Thanks for cleaning up after people who don’t care about enjoying nature and leaving it as is for the next people. It’s sad to have to clean up but it’s good to see people stepping up to the job.


  7. dadirri7 says:

    fantastic job! we do this every year on Clean Up Australia Day … the rest of the year we pick up all we see …. someone has to care!


  8. An eye-opener to learn the lifespan of plastic; and i’ve heard that many landfill sites are clogged up by disposable diapers. Need such radical changes in our consumerism.


    • It was an eye-opener for me, too, to see those numbers again. One of the clean-up crew talked about finding disposable diapers in the bushes in the previous year. It would certainly take a shake-up in people’s consciousness to transition to cloth diapers that can be re-used over and over again…I think people will perceive it as more time-consuming and inconvenient. Maybe the aftermath of Peak Oil will make the production of plastic items so expensive that we’ll look to re-usable products again?


  9. Steve Lakey says:

    It’s great to see a group of people making a positive contribution to the environment. Well done to everyone involved! πŸ™‚


  10. Hi Annette! Good for you for seeing the beauty while taking care of your river. The pictures were gorgeous. My husband and I walk every morning and we have taken it upon ourselves to pick up the neighborhood trash on our walks. What I think happens is that we not only notice it and appreciate it all, but the connection that we have to it is so much deeper and richer as a result. I’ll bet your river is the same for you.


    • So glad to hear that you are making the personal effort, too, to clean up after other people. I agree with you about the connection we make with a place when we begin to take care of it. Thank you so much for your comment, Kathy.


  11. Good morning, Annette. I live on a country road and am always amazed and disgusted by the enormous amounts of trash along our property line. The people who would throw their McDonald’s bag out of their car window don’t care about shelf life of trash so I’ve kind of gotten over raging about it and just get out there once a month or so and clean it up. Even though I would dearly love to throw them into the dungeon, my powers ARE limited.


  12. Lynne Ayers says:

    Kudos to you and all your like-minded people. Great job. I find it unfathomable, and unconscionable, that people still litter.


  13. Pingback: A River in Nepal – Pokhara | rfljenksy – Practicing Simplicity

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