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My 21st B-Earth Day

Yesterday, Monday, April 22, was my 21st b-earth day, and at 6:30 AM my phone buzzed with a text message from my aunt and uncle wishing me a happy birthday. Normally, I would respond thank you and then fall back to sleep for another couple hours. But something about knowing that it was Earth Day and my birthday made me think twice about closing my eyes. Ultimately, the morning mystery of early sunlight that I could see through my window got me up and out of bed and out the door into the morning.

I walked to a garden near where I live and spent some time observing the little lettuces and other plants growing there. The view of the bay from the garden was stunning, and I felt so blessed and grateful for the morning and the place where I live.

As I walked back, I noticed a sqaushed plastic water bottle by the grass, so I picked it up to recycle it. I kept walking and saw cigarette butts on the ground near some benches, so I picked them up and put them into the little ash tray bucket next to the bench. Though UC Santa Cruz has to be "tobacco-free" by 2014 as per a declaration made by the UC President, smoking is really prevalent on campus. Unfortunately, many students not only smoke but also have no sense of responsibility for properly disposing of their cigarette butts, which are plastic and not biodegradable.

I realized after I put the first handful of cigarettes into the bucket that they were everywhere and that to make my cleanup effort have an extended impact, I began collecting all the cigarette butts and trash into a plastic baggy I had found on the ground. I collected for about twenty minutes and then laid out the results on a picnic table to photograph them.

When I finally made it back to my room, thew away the garbage, recycled the bottles, and washed my hands, I uploaded this photo to Facebook and shared some thoughts with my friends, many of whom live nearby:

"I picked up some trash & recycling this morning on the Knoll in celebration of Earth Day. Just wanted to remind those who visit our beautiful knoll overlook that cigarette butts, plastic water bottles, and plastic bags do not biodegrade. Considering you can see the Monterey Bay from the Knoll, please be conscious of what you leave on the Earth, especially since it may find its way to the ocean. At the very least, this is a reminder that as you enjoy the beauty of our campus and the views of the Bay to be considerate of the other visitors to our grassy, wildflowery hill and throw your butts and garbage in the trash and any recyclables in the recycling bins. Happy Earth Day!"

Since yesterday morning, I have become even more conscious of the trash I see around me, and I have made a commitment to pick it up when I see it. It's easy to walk over a wrapper on the ground when no one else around you seems to be picking up others' garbage, but eventually, someone has to pick those items up and place them somewhere less uncontrollable. I don't want to say somewhere better or the right place because there's really no such thing--ultimately, that stuff ends up in a landfill. But certainly it's true that putting trash in bins that are more controlled keeps that stuff out of the ocean and out of animals' bodies.

When it comes to waste, we really can all make a difference in what ends up in natural ecosystems and what ends up in those poor parts of the earth that we've relegated to collect our waste. We can also choose to consume fewer wasteful products and see the results in the reduction of trash in our own garbage cans and recycling bins. Waste is probably my favorite sustainability topic because of this tangibility. What can I say, I love talking trash.

In closing, I am grateful to my aunt for waking me up yesterday morning with her text message, and I am also incredibly blessed to have wonderful people in my life who celebrated my 21st with me yesterday, including my mom who visited me and took me out to breakfast, and my friends, who joined me for sushi and drinks downtown last night. I also received a countless number of birthday wishes, cards, hugs, and phone calls yesterday that made it all the more special. Finally, I am so thankful for and in awe of this remarkable planet we all call home.

Thank you for reading! How did you celebrate Earth Day?


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