By Saarah Husein, Instagram: @Earthlingsaarr
As a passionate earthling, I was extremely excited for my first community clean-up at Coyote Creek. I am in awe of nature because it makes me feel grounded and blessed every single time. Whenever I am happy or sad, I go to nature, making me feel grounded and at peace. I love visiting national parks, community parks, or even just walking around my neighborhood. The article Spending time in nature reduces stress, proves that the average amount of 10 minutes of surrounding yourself with the natural environment reduces “high levels of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues” (Cordova, 2020).
I had the opportunity to be part of a creek clean up with Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful (KCCB), a non-profit organization based in San Jose, California. KCCB aims to help keep environments clean such as Coyote Creek and connect volunteers with mother nature. Coyote Creek is a 64-mile long river that leads from Henry W. Coe Park and stretches to San Francisco Bay (Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, 2020).
This was my first attempt to take the initiative to clean a creek. Since it happened during COVID-19, KCCB followed Santa Clara County health regulations and procedures by asking us follow-up questions about any symptoms, checking our temperature, maintaining 6-feet apart from one another unless they were from the same household, going over what our goal was for the day and gave us our own safety gloves, trash picker, and a trash bag. Everyone who came was split into groups, and each group had a group leader and team assistance. Our group leader took us to a specific area around the creek and discussed our goals and additional safety measures. The goal was to collect any waste such as paper wastes, plastic products, metals, and e-wastes, and other objects that could be found near the creek. The purpose of doing so was to make sure that the waste wouldn’t fall into the creek and travel to the ocean.
One of the experiences that I found devastating was how garbage ends up in the creeks and gets stuck between rocks and sticks. It is challenging to remove because they get buried deep in the dirt throughout time, making it difficult to find these or remove them. Watching documentaries on plastic or waste pollution is an entirely different experience than seeing it in person. It is a life-changing experience; it wakes you up and makes you realize that this issue is more significant than it seems. It made me feel worried, upset, and mad. How is it possible that there is so much trash here and that other people aren't aware of how concerning this is? By having the opportunity to experience cleaning it up, I observed how much trash there is, how difficult it is to remove, and how time-consuming it is. For instance, I spent 3 hours cleaning up around 10 foot by 10 foot sections of the creek, and it wasn't even one-fourth of the whole area. The amount of trash there was extensive, but it was even more challenging to remove it due to the hill's downward slope leading to the creek, and the trash stuck was either inside the dirt or trees.
Now it was time to start our work. Along the trail, walking towards the creek, if you observe the ground, you can see some scraps of trash. For instance, along with the cleanup, here are some of the objects I came across:
Plastic: bottle caps, straws, cups, food scraps
Spray paint cans
E-waste: flat-screen TV; headphones; various chargers; batteries; discarded phones
Half the amount of motor oil in a 5-gallon jug
These were just some of the objects I came across. I found it shocking how many unusual and hazardous materials I came across near the creek banks that people wouldn’t expect to find. If you stop to take a moment to observe the area you are standing around, it is shocking how many scraps of trash you could find. For instance, I was underneath the bridge on the edge of the wall, and I saw a white-colored object sticking out of the dirt. As I started digging around it with my gloves, I ended up pulling out a white straw that was stuck underneath the ground. While taking the straw out from the ground, it made me reflect on how human-made inventions end up polluting our natural soil.
When humans get rid of waste by littering grounds or through disposal, it flows and destroys our ecosystem, land, and marine animals. Marine wildlife is especially impacted since they mistake litter for food and end up consuming it. After living organisms, let's say like fish, consume the plastic scraps discarded by humans, they end up eating the plastic as food. The toxins and harmful material such as BPA found in the plastic enter into the bodies of the fish, causing chemical reactions that are similar to the sex hormone estrogen (Hamilton, 2011). Therefore, the cycle of waste from the ground flows into our creeks. From our creeks travel to oceans, where marine organisms consume the waste; afterward, humans consume the marine animals as seafood. This results in polluting our bodies with the scraps of plastic and toxic waste that people have consumed through marine animals. Pollution caused by plastic products' usage is now a global concern, yet we fail to address the issue (Savoca et al., 2020). In this article, "A Plastic ingestion by marine fish is widespread and increasing," researchers concluded a study on 555 types of species, more than two-thirds of the species that consumed plastic were more than half of the marine species, compared to around one-third who had not (Savoca et al., 2020). To clarify, this was only one-quarter of the marine species used for research; imagine comparing this data to all of the marine species. There is a high chance and risk that most marine organisms are contaminated with toxic plastic waste in their bodies.
It is also essential to consider the amount of plastic products used by humans on a daily basis. According to Our Word Data the statistics from 2010 show that the amount of plastic that is generated per capita in the United States alone is around 1 pound of plastic per day (Geyer et al., 2010).
This illustrates that nationwide plastic consumption is about 330 million pounds of plastic since the United States population is roughly 330 million. Plastic waste ends up polluting our land, water bodies, and the habitats that live along both get harmed in the process. A big issue is that land animals such as raccoons, bobcats, and other animals mistake plastic and garbage for food. Therefore plastic waste is creating an ecological imbalance.
One of the main concerns is the waste generated by the homeless people taking shelter near the creek. Many homeless people generally gather their belongings in and around the creek. They also tend to dispose of food wrappers, bottles, plates, plastic straws, and other scraps. The lack of waste management among homeless people creates more pollution. Homeless people also suffer due to the lack of awareness regarding environmental hazards. Deb Kramer, the Executive Director of Keep Coyote Creek, mentioned that around 85% of the trash collected along her group’s cleanups along Coyote Creek comes from homeless people. After her sharing this with me and reflecting on the creek's atmosphere, it made me realize that the deep-rooted issue is the crisis of homeless people living below the poverty line and living along the creeks. It is related because homeless people gather belongings for their own survival purposes; however, their waste damages the ecosystem, environment, and animals living among it.
The pollution alongside the creeks affects not only the people in the area, homeless or poor minorities, but also the ecosystem, land, and marine animals. However, it may seem that getting rid of plastic or other waste is simple, just throw it anywhere, and it isn’t your problem anymore. But, that isn’t the case, and it is harming our ecosystem, marine and land animals, and poisoning us slowly even if we don’t realize it. What goes around comes around. When you discard plastic, it will come back to you when you consume seafood. I reduce my waste consumption by shopping locally, being mindful of what I buy, products involving less packaging, using reusable products, making homemade hygienic products (toothpaste, mouthwash, & body lotion), and shopping second-hand. We must take a stand with Earth since every living organism, including species, humans, and the environment, is interconnected.
My observation of cleaning up the trash made me feel more anxious and worried about the massive waste impact on our environment and the organisms living along the creek. However, the connection and community of KCCB made me feel like I am in the right direction of creating a better environment and community. I value having a cleaner environment to receive the benefits of nature where it can help destress, obtain mental clarity and enjoy the bliss of nature.
Recipe for the toothpaste by YouTuber Blue Oills-
Zero waste toothpaste using a jar:
1. Fill up the jar halfway up with coconut oil
2. Add two tablespoons of baking soda
3. Mix until it has a creamy consistency
4. Add 20 drops of essential oil; I used peppermint (optional)
5. Remix it all until it is evenly minty
NOTES ON THIS VIDEO:
1. Make sure to spit in your bin as coconut oil can clog your drains.
2. Baking soda is softer on the hardness scale than tooth enamel, so it will not damage your enamel. However, if you have cavities or enamel decay already, the baking soda may be too abrasive as your protective layer of enamel is no longer present.
3. The essential oils are entirely optional, so if you don't want to use them orally, just skip that step.
Cordova, M. G. (2020, February 25). Spending time in nature reduces stress, research finds.
Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., Wilcox, C., Siegle, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., Narayan, R., & Law, K. L. (2010). Plastic waste generation per person, 2010.
Hamilton, J. (2011, March 2). Study: Most Plastics Leach Hormone-Like Chemicals. https://www.npr.org/2011/03/02/134196209/study-most-plastics-leach-hormone-like-chemicals
Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful. (2020). Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful. Our Mission and Vision. https://www.keepcoyotecreekbeautiful.org/vision
Savoca, M. S., McInturf, A. G., & Hazen, E. L. (2020, February 9). Plastic ingestion by
marine fish is widespread and increasing.
Crossroads Trading Company, https://crossroadstrading.com/, used clothing consignment and sales.