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06 April 2009
Styrofoam and cigarette butts

"Styrofoam Field" photo courtesy nualabugeyeWowie-zowie. I'd known about the evils of styrofoam -- especially after so much time spent picking it off our lawn -- but I didn't quite comprehend the magnitude of its nefariousness until this weekend.

I signed up to do a Potomac shoreline cleanup, one of Marriott's many "Spirit to Serve" activities that happen throughout the year. Saturday was a fabulous day to be outside: bright early spring sunshine, and a strong breeze to keep things cool. About two dozen folks from Marriott HQ and various local properties spent several hours on Saturday morning cleaning up Roosevelt Island. Situated in the Potomac River between DC and Virginia, the island is a 90-acre preserve with paved and wooded trails, a memorial to Teddy Roosevelt, and the remains of George Mason's house. It's a cool little spot and a nice respite from the rat race. Unfortunately, due to its location, Roosevelt Island also catches a lot of trash that gets dumped into the Potomac.

Blue trash bags and hazmat gloves in hand, we split up into smaller groups and each got assigned a specific section of the island. Our group wound up on the south tip under the Rt 50 bridge. I had visions of discovering all sorts of bizarre stuff -- discarded clothing, medical waste, maybe even a dead body! -- but it mostly came down to two things.

Styrofoam and cigarette butts. Ew.

At the start of the day, the organizers asked us to keep track of how many butts we picked up. I stopped after 50, but estimate my grand total to be somewhere around 100. They also asked us to count the number of plastic bags, and I was pleased to report that I'd only found two or three. That's a sign of something good. However, the quantity and frequency of styrofoam bits was most disheartening. Cups. Chunks of packaging. Those frickin' peanuts. Small bits. Reeeeeeally small bits. The stuff was absolutely everywhere. Yes, I know the new and improved styrofoam is CFC-free, so I guess it could be worse. But the stuff never breaks down. NEVER.

What ran through my mind, over and over again, as I stooped to pick up yet another white bit of the vile stuff, was that someday far in the future, aliens will come investigate our planet and find nothing but little pieces of styrofoam everywhere. And they'll wonder WTF we were thinking. I wonder that too.

 

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