I spent the spring and summer after earning my Bachelor’s degree travelling through rural Mexico. While I enjoyed bussing along the beautiful and desolate Pacific coast, it wasn’t until I’d found the small town of La Ticla that I knew my trip would be worth it. I settled into the town and spent months living in a small thatched hut. I surfed, lived simply, and made friends with locals and other surfers passing through.
One morning, I started walking north on the beach. My eyes on the water, I didn’t see what lay ahead of me until I kicked the first plastic bottle. I looked up into a plastic nightmare. Trash covered the beach for a hundred yards in front of me. Broken toys, discarded laundry detergent bottles, car parts, cigarette butts, caps and lids, all were strewn over every inch of sand.
I ran back to the camp that had become my home and told the other campers what I’d seen. We walked out together, our small community of travelers, to the broken stretch of beach. The sun rose quick, and its already hot rays burned down onto the plastic shore. The others watched, mouths agape as gulls flew in, picked small bits of bright plastic up in their beaks, then disappeared down the coast.
“We have to do something,” one of the campers said.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes we do.”
We walked over to one of the three neighboring restaurants and asked for plastic bags. Armed with a box of large black trash bags, we went to work, collecting trash up and down the quarter mile stretch of beach. I packed a plastic bag and carried it a quarter mile down the beach back to the edge of town, then another, then another. The morning stretched on, sun gleaming down hot against the nearly melted waste. Bag after bag had left our arms weary, and the black plastic of the full bags dug into our backs whenever we’d haul another load down the beach.
After an hour we were covered in plastic-smelling sweat. After two hours we were dragging the bags to town, bodies too beat to lift anymore. After three hours we sat in the sand, looking out over the waste. One of the campers shook his head. “It looks like we haven’t done anything.”
“We’ve done something.” I said.
I turned and looked at the garbage. It stretched on for what seemed like forever, covering what yesterday had been sand and rock. My legs were cramping and a cut in my side left from a sharp angle of plastic stung with sweat. To my left was the toil of hauling hot and endless garbage, to my right lay the respite of shade and hydration. I reached down and picked up a plastic water bottle. I wondered where it came from, whose thirst its contents had quenched before it had been discarded, then set adrift. I tossed the cracked and empty bottle back into the field of garbage as another gull swooped in to survey the trash. It scoured the ground for a moment, then grabbed a discarded piece of plastic in its beak, and flew off into the hot blue morning.
I’m sharing this story from the time I spent in Mexico, not to dwell on the past, but to encourage and inspire our community. Many small actions damaged the place I called home. But a few big actions can restore and support our environment. This year, Earth Day is Tuesday, April 22. For more information about Earth Day 2014, and for ways you can get involved, check out the Earth Day Network.
Written by: Samuel Harvey Sam is the Content Specialist for the Office of Student Access and Wellness at Ashford University.