Spring Cleaning, Oregon Style

I love to volunteer and I love to be outside, and those two things coincide a lot in Oregon. Every year we pick a volunteer activity for Earth Day, and we also did the SOLV Spring Beach Cleanup this year!

I wasn’t ever really a big fan of the beach, growing up along the Jersey Shore. There was sand and water, and that was kind of boring I guess.(not to mention me + sun = OW) But then I moved to Oregon and was entranced by the treacherous, rocky, geologically amazing coastline. I also loved the fact that, for the most part, there wasn’t anybody out there. It was so peaceful, or as much as a violent ocean against a volcanic coast can be! I felt like I needed to give something back, so this March I volunteered for my first Beach Cleanup. Each year, thousands of volunteers comb the Oregon coast for industrial and household waste that washes up on shore. We chose a fairly small stretch of beach at Ona Beach State Park and went to work.

We found a good amount of debris, much of it degraded plastics, some amongst the remains of birds who had ingested it. It was eye-opening to see just how one little bottlecap can do such damage. There was a lot of technological waste – parts of phones, cameras, who knows? All those things that no one wants to deal with when they cease to be useful. Well, we dealt with it. And it really reinforced my commitment to recycling and reducing.

It wasn’t all depressing – all around us were reminders of why we were doing this. Friendly lizards and snakes were poking their heads out as if to say ‘Thanks!” As I grabbed a pop bottle from under a tree, I realized it was next to a fox den – whose occupants, I’m sure, are glad to be rid of it. There were massive colonies of aggregating anemones, barnacles and mussels on the exposed rocks, who I’m sure don’t like to be hit by all that flotsam. All around us, it seemed like the sky and the ocean herself were breathing little sighs of relief. It felt really good to have done that, and I was a bit sad to go. We grabbed a few extra debris bags so we can continue our ‘mission’ whenever the mood strikes us!

Never ones to back down from a good cleanup, for Earth Day this year we volunteered with the Oregon City Cleanup. It’s a huge effort by the city of Oregon City to keep its public spaces clean and green. Though we wanted to do invasive species removal (I have a real knack for decimating Ivy), we heard that the Historical Society Museum was in desperate need of some landscaping. Dirt and plants – let’s do it!

When we got there, a lot of folks were already hard at work pulling weeds and unloading azalea bushes. Most of the work was basic gardening, but there was this sad, neglected, insanely overgrown corner that could use some serious help. So we grabbed our shears and dug in! Within an hour, we’d filled four yard-waste cans with clippings. But luckily a hired garbage truck picked them up and emptied them – and we quickly filled them again. By the time all was said and done, we’d cleared several hundred pounds of debris, made the sidewalk passable, opened up three parking spaces that had been overrun, cleared street signs, and made a bus shelter visible from the sidewalk.

We also found that a tree stump by the bus stop was being used as a trash can – so we took some photos and are going to write to the city to ask them to install a real trash can instead. Who knows if they will, but it never hurts to try! We pulled out a lot of trash. (There are trash cans on buses… why folks can’t hold on to their banana peel long enough to throw in in the bus’s can, I’ll never know!)

It was a huge effort, but it was so fun and so rewarding to see the reaction of Terry, who was organizing the volunteers. He’d wanted to see this area spruced up for years, and he couldn’t contain his excitement. It was a really, really fun morning – and I will definitely be doing this again! I love to see the city so committed to its cleanliness.

The next day, Hubby and I spent a relaxing day fishing and getting horribly sunburnt. In all that time I thought an awful lot about what I’d seen and done in the last couple of volunteer trips, and how much the little changes I’ve made in my own life are making a positive impact on the environment. You may hear the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” ad nauseum until it doesn’t seem to mean anything, but it really, really does. I haven’t used a grocery store bag in almost four years. We compost all our appropriate food scraps and recycle everything that can be recycled. We reuse everything we can – spaghetti sauce jars will be canning jars next year; glass drink bottles are vases, and I’ve reused the same wrapping paper for three years. Because of this, we only bring our trash can to the curb once a month – and at that, it’s barely full. This didn’t happen all at once; it was a gradual change. One thing here, another there. I ran out of chemical dish soap – well, I’ll get organic next time. Next time I need paper towels I’ll get the compostable ones instead of bleached. And one by one, those little things became a huge shift in the way I live. I’ve become more aware of myself and my actions. I’ve become aware that even though I am one six-billionth of the human population of Earth, I can make a huge impact on her cleanliness. It only takes one little thing at a time. What will you do?

Happy Earth Day!