I was born and raised in what is thought to be the “greenest” state in the United States, Alaska. I lived on a small island in the Southeast panhandle, it is a fishing village that depends on the ocean for so much of their livelihoods. I have been living in Washington state now, for over 20 years and have not been back to visit in quite some time. Last week, I had the opportunity to revisit my hometown. To say that I was appalled would be an enormous understatement. Spending the past 20 years away, I had quickly grown accustomed to recycling and reducing my carbon footprint. It has become a way of life.
When I arrived last week, I quickly noticed that the streets and sidewalks were full of litter and debris. It was disheartening. I feel that as we grow up, every one of us has an image of our hometown and its perfect beauty. I also noticed as I walked to my hotel, that there was not a single recycling receptacle in sight. This was unimaginable to me. I had a lunch date with an old high school friend that afternoon, I headed out the door and down to the ocean view restaurant, as we were sitting on the balcony, with the view of over a hundred fishing vessels, my friend said “gross, this beer is flat!” As I looked at her to laugh, she chucked the beer can into the ocean. I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t know what to say. I teared up and looked away. I ended the lunch date a few minutes later.
Later that day, I wanted to take a hike to a well-known beach that as a child, I used to frequent. The 1.5-mile trail to the beach was filled with litter, soda and beer cans decorated the sides of the trail. I felt like crying. I cannot begin to imagine what people are thinking, the entire population of Alaska lives in such a magical place. Its beauty is unmatched. Yet, such a place that depends on the ocean, seems to have no respect for it.
I asked a few friends about the recycling program while I was there and was met with blank stares. I was shocked to find out that most of the people in the community still have “burn barrels.” Instead of paying for the weight of disposal, they simply burn everything in their trash that will burn. It all seemed so surreal; I was truly in a land that time had forgotten about.
This past summer I had the opportunity to stay in a quaint beach town on the Oregon Coast. As I look back on that trip, I notice a lot of similarities. Our coastal towns around the country are very often small towns. It costs these cities money to implement recycling programs, therefore are quite often out voted during election times. I feel so strongly that educating these small towns on the very real crisis that we are already in the beginning of, is urgent.
I do know that this is not the only issue with waste in our oceans however, I feel that if we started here, at these small towns we could start to change our impact on the earth. Education and passion is what the world needs in order to save our waters and help guarantee a world for future generations.
Essay by: Travis McAllister
University of Phoenix