I spent much of the day on the roadside, picking up other people’s garbage.
Now, if you happen to be a rubbish collector – which is statistically unlikely – you’re probably saying, “Yeah? So what?”
If you’re not, you’re most likely snarking something along the lines of, “Treadwell’s finally gone right round the bend. Screw loose. Stark raving I should say. Took rather longer than we thought for him to go barkers, no?”
So let me explain. Every weekday I take my kids to their schools, following the same route. And every day I look at the same litter strewn along the roadside, slowly yet steadily accumulating. Vineyards, olive groves, mountains, ancient farmhouses – and piles of discarded drink bottles, food wrappers, cigarette boxes, baby wipes. A surprising number of baby wipes. This, shall we say, irks me somewhat.
So I got to thinking. I could moan and whine about it, driving these roads each day fuming in silent frustration and fury. Or I could do something about it. The former seemed like a recipe for a duodenal ulcer, so I’ve chosen the latter. My plan is simple yet not so straightforward.
I’ll let myself explain myself.
Sorry for the generally poor quality and the occasional upside-downness of the video – my phone is still something of a mystery to me, and as I’m not in the habit of photographing junk – my own or otherwise – the learning curve is a steep one.
As I mention in the video, my mission is to ultimately get the regional government to start an anti-litter campaign, along the lines of the “Don’t Mess With Texas” program which reduced, between 1986 and 1990, litter on Texas streets by 72%. The campaign has since gone on to become a cultural phenomenon and is one of the most talked-about ad campaigns in American history.
Why couldn’t something like that work here, where Catalans are fiercely proud of their land and culture? How could we show them that there is indeed a problem, and that trashing their own homeland is akin to vandalizing their own house?
Well, I’m making a map, geotagging each bit of garbage along the route to my kids’ schools and, once it’s done, I’m going to include it along with a letter to the government of Catalonia.
Unfortunately WordPress doesn’t support the file type that would allow for an interactive map, but here’s the general idea.
Each red tag is a piece of litter, and on the interactive map you’d be able to click on each one and see a photo of exactly what particular, abominable bit of human refuse each one is. This is, you must understand, only one tiny portion (about 1.5 km of a total of roughly 14 km) of the total route I’m covering, and this, for the most part, shows only one side of the street.
The simple fact, people, is that we’ve got a garbage problem on our hands, not just here, but around the world. We need to do a hell of a lot more than simply cleaning up the roadsides, including, probably, changing the entire way in which we produce, package, sell, and consume food, beverages, and just about everything else.
But this seems like a first step to me. If we can get people to rethink – even a little – the way in which they see the world around them – as a vast rubbish tip – then perhaps we can gently nudge them in the direction of an ethos which aims to protect the natural world. It may even get them to tackle the larger challenges that face us – overfishing, deforestation, species extinction and, the whopper of them all, climate change.
Maybe the environment isn’t your thing. (Although you may admit, in the largest sense, it’s the only thing.) So what is your thing? We can certainly bitch and moan, say our hands are tied, throw our arms up in despair. Or we can take a long look at the problems we face and figure out what we can do about them. We can, each of us, put on a pair of gloves and start picking up the garbage around us, whatever that garbage may be.