To the few people who read this blog, here’s a challenge for you.

As I wrote about in my last entry, I’ve been going out every couple of days and picking up trash off of the streets. It needs to be done, unfortunately, but it’s not that hard to do, and it’s incredibly rewarding. You can get an immense sense of satisfaction from doing the right thing, and if you’re careful enough, you can make a visible impact. I could walk my route and notice the spots that are cleaner– but maybe that just means I have a dirty neighborhood.

Since I can’t clean up the entire Milwaukie area by myself, though, my challenge is thus: In the next week, spend a little bit of time and pick up trash around your neighborhood. It doesn’t need to take long. Half an hour will even make a difference. You don’t need any fancy stuff, either– I wear gardening gloves and take along a black plastic garbage bag, though I’ve done it with a grocery bag and no gloves, as well. The important part of this challenge is that you just do it.

Here are some tips:

  • Gloves are a good idea, but regardless of whether or not you wear them, be mindful of what you’re picking up. Always be sure to wash your hands when you’re done, even if you were wearing gloves.
  • Be mindful of other people’s property. Try not to stray more than five feet from the edge of the road, and less if you can help it.
  • If you might encounter blackberry bushes, long pants are recommended.
  • I also recommend close-toed shoes. I’ve had to step into piles of dry twigs and leaves and kick down renegade blackberry vines– things that aren’t too fun to do with open shoes.
  • Try to pick up everything you see– even cigarette butts or things that are slightly buried. As a rule of thumb, I tell myself that if I see trash, I will pick it up unless it’s too far on someone else’s property or is too dangerous/ridiculous to pick up (such as a bunch of tiny shards of glass).
  • Obviously, do this while it’s light. I really don’t think this town’s a very dangerous place at night, but it is safer to be out during day. Besides, how well can you pick up trash when it’s dark out?

When I was in Japan, my group met with a man named Mr. Imai, who lived on the beach and made salt. He told us that we are all connected by the oceans; what we put in to our seas washes up on someone else’s shores. No one in this world is isolated– the Pepsi cup on the side of the road may wash into a drain, where it may flow to a river. Perhaps that cup will wash up on the banks of a forest. Maybe it will float to sea.

Every little thing counts. If you walk somewhere– to a friend’s house, perhaps, or to the store (becoming less and less likely, I’m aware, as more of us get our licenses and cars)– take a spare grocery bag in your back pocket and pick stuff up as you walk along. The aim of this challenge is twofold; picking up trash cleans the world we live in and helps the environment, but hopefully we’ll help others realize that they can take action and make a difference.