This is an open letter to Litter Bugs.
I hesitate to use the cutesy term "Litter Bugs." Litter Pig is more appropriate, I think. If you disagree with me, spend about 10 minutes walking down nearly any roadside. You will likely find yourself in agreement before you walk very far.
First, a little geography lesson for you.
The beautiful Apalachee River originates just north of Lawrenceville and flows southeast for 74 miles , part of which runs through Oconee County where it meets the Oconee River to form Lake Oconee, which then feeds into Lake Sinclair before its dam reconnects with the Oconee River.
Farther south, the Oconee River meets the mighty Altamaha River, a magical place, and finally, the Altamaha empties into the Atlantic Ocean in Georgia's magnificent marshy coast.
So, Litter Pigs, I ask you, do you love going to the beach? How do you feel when you are swimming in the ocean and find a plastic shopping bag floating in the water? How do you think you would feel if you were, say, a sea turtle, and this bag was stuck on your body, slowly drowning you?
Have you ever seen Styrofoam in the water at your favorite river or lake? It floats. It moves quickly with the water's current. Being lightweight and susceptible to wind currents as well, it rarely gets hung for long before it is on the move again.
A fast-food Styrofoam cup tossed out your car window can travel from the roadside ditches through storm water run-off channels into storm drains, which feed into our local streams. Streams meet rivers. Rivers always meet oceans through one path or another. Therefore, it is highly likely that your litter could end up in the ocean.
I'm not kidding. What did you think happens to it? Did you think it just magically disappears when you throw it out of your car window or when it blows out of the back of your pickup truck?
It doesn't. It ends up in our beautiful waterways and eventually into our planet's most precious resource, the oceans.
On Saturday, the Keep Oconee County Beautiful Commission (KOCBC), in association with Rivers Alive!, held one of two yearly cleanups at the Apalachee River along Highway 78 where the river flows under the highway. Volunteers concentrated on the parking area and the banks around the bridge.
"Cleaning up the riverside begs the question: Why do people who litter, almost all the time, throw their trash and recyclables into the thickets?" KOCBC member Mary Mellein asked. "Do they think they will be dissolved by the brambles and briers? All the brambles and briers do is scratch the people who care enough to remove the litter."
In an effort to be good stewards of our planet, these volunteers don't think twice about donating their time or travel expenses to join forces to pick up the garbage others so thoughtlessly toss out.
"This was the biggest haul we have ever seen at Highway 78--200 pounds!" KOCBC member Dr. Rosemary Franklin said. "Also, we had more 'guest volunteers' than ever before. This amount of trash was discarded since last April, when we cleaned."
Most shocking was the fact that the 200-pound haul was all recyclable materials! An additional 45 pounds of non-recyclable trash was also collected.
The majority of the trash was collected in the parking area beside the river on the Oconee County side. A disgusting collection of dirty diapers, bottles and cans galore, and food refuse was everywhere and, being uphill from the river, it was bound to be washed down into the river during upcoming rainstorms.
And remember, Dr. Franklin said this had all accumulated since April. Two-hundred pounds of trash dumped at one of the most scenic locations in Oconee, by people who supposedly park there in order to hike down to the river they so enjoy. It is perplexing to say the least.
Also present for the first time at the event was Michael Wolfe, a member of North American Native Fishes Association. He arrived early and gently collected several species of native fish from the river, which he placed in an aquarium tank for all of us to see and learn about. Of course, afterward he released them back to the river, unharmed.
"Michael Wolfe's contribution of catching examples of our native fish population was brand new. Finally we were able to see what we are trying to save." Franklin said.
Be an example for the young people in your life.
Saturday's event began at 9 a.m. and wrapped up, including the loading of materials into trucks to dispose of it properly, by 10:25 a.m. One hour and twenty-five minutes outdoors with new friends on a beautiful autumn Saturday was not difficult.
You can also make a difference by, first of all, NOT LITTERING, and secondly, becoming involved with the Keeping Oconee County Beautiful Commission by joining or participating the Adopt-A-Mile program.
Are you involved in eco-stewardship programs?