We are excited to introduce our guest blogger, Veronica Kim. Veronica is an upcoming senior at Durham Academy who will be writing about her experiences as a volunteer with Keep Durham Beautiful throughout the summer.
It’s surprising, really, the amount of trash that you can see on the side of the road, if only you’re looking carefully enough.
And the participants of the 11th annual Keep Durham Beautiful Litter Index were certainly looking very carefully. On June 11, over twenty volunteers set off for five different corners of Durham, armed with clipboards and charts and the occasional bagel. I was skeptical. I had just learned the litter assessment scale (ranging from one to four, with one meaning “no litter” and four meaning “extremely littered”) and was more than a little nervous that my litter assessment abilities would not be up to par.
Not to worry. The Litter Index volunteers are experienced, passionate members of the community, coming out each year to sweep the Durham streets in their trusty white vans (donated for our use by University Ford). It is a demanding job, with seventy-five zones that need to be inspected. Yet even at 8:30 in the morning, they are ready to go, coffee in hand and pencil at the ready.
In my van, there are shouts of “I just saw five junked cars on the side of the road!” and “Please drive slower, I need to make sure I catch every piece of litter that I can.” I am awed by the amounts of waste that dot the sides of the roads and the treeline – I’ve never noticed it before.
In a state where we throw away nearly twelve billion tons of trash every year, the Litter Index needs to spot every aluminum can, every paper cup, every hamburger wrapper. At first glance, it does not seem like a grueling job. I told my friends, We drove around and assessed the trash on the sides of the roads, and they said, Wait, you didn’t even clean it up? You just looked at it? But without the Litter Index, there would be no litter cleanup. It clears the way for more organized cleanup opportunities, and focuses this effort in areas that have been rated higher on the scale. The places that receive a score of one will not require much organized effort. On the other hand, “four” areas can require a large-scale effort and even machine equipment to remove litter, which takes a lot of advance planning to achieve.
This is how the Litter Index helps. It is not just a bunch of people with nothing better to do on a Thursday, driving around and pointing out all of the straw wrappers that they see in the grass. It opens the doors to a much larger process. It is a program run by Keep Durham Beautiful, and it provides the first step to doing just that.
Here is a statistic I read the other day: North Carolinians throw away enough trash every year to circle the planet twice. That is more than fifty thousand miles worth of waste.
It makes you think. On a grass-lined road, I marked down my first “one” of the day. In this zone, I saw a single Styrofoam cup, and I wished I could reach out and pluck it from the ground. The sun blinked and yawned, not yet fully awake.
This world, and our small corner of it, will continue to spin, regardless of how many popsicle sticks we throw out our car windows. But we will not always be able to recognize the beauty of a summer morning, when the birds usher in the dawn, when the sky seems to melt into puddles on your shoulders. Unless we realize – this Earth, this planet, this is our little miracle. We would do well to protect it.
We would like to thank University Ford for their generous donation of the vans used for the Litter Index and Republic Services for providing lunch for Keep Durham Beautiful volunteers.
Want to learn more about the Litter Index? Find more information and volunteer registration for the 2016 Keep Durham Beautiful Litter and Community Appearance Index here.
To see more pictures from the 2015 Litter Index, please visit our Flickr page.