When I was in elementary school the now iconic commercial “Keep America Beautiful” was in heavy airplay. I can still see that Native American (then an Indian) on his horse looking out over the polluted countryside with that big tear rolling down is cheek. That commercial really hit home with me because I have never littered. I just don’t understand why a person can’t throw his or her trash in the trash. I became that crazy lady who calls you out on your littering, occasionally exchanging words with litterbugs who can’t believe they’ve been caught.
Unfortunately, that commercial was the only thing back then that was guiding regular people and children down the path of keeping our planet clean. There were no clean-up-our-school days and there certainly weren’t grass roots organizations like Zero Trash Laguna out in the schools and community teaching about putting words into actions.
Chip McDermott is the founder of Zero Trash Laguna and he personally visits Laguna’s elementary schools and teaches the kids about the importance of keeping our town and planet clean. Two years ago when Isabel was in first grade, she came home from school, told me how the man from Zero Trash Laguna visited El Morro, gave them gloves and collection bags, and set the kids out cleaning their school. What did she find? Some usual suspects: errant food wrappers, a few plastic bottles, and a bunny head. Did that qualify as trash? Chip (or one of the teachers) surmised that a larger animal (hawk, coyote?) had caught the bunny and eaten everything, leaving the head behind. Ah, nature!
Regardless, that experience of helping her school get cleaner really stuck with Izzy, and because of her we became Zero Trash participants.
Major parenting reminder: actions, not words, my friends.
On the first Saturday of every month, Chip and his acolytes man spots around Laguna (and now several other towns) handing out gloves, bags and pickers and providing red Zero Trash T-shirts and collection bins. Many local businesses have joined in supporting Zero Trash and offer discounts to participants.
El Ranchito, at Coast Highway and Cress Street, offers a 50 percent discount to Zero Trash participants, which gives you a really nice reward for cleaning up town. We head over there around 10 or 10:30, often meeting fellow Brownie troop members, gather our supplies, and start walking the neighborhood. Sometimes we head to the beach. Sometimes we hit the alley behind the liquor store. Doesn’t matter where we go; we find trash.
Zero Trash has taught us that pretty much everything except for cigarette butts and Styrofoam can be recycled. The girls love cleaning their town, which they understand helps our environment and our wild animals, both land-based and aquatic. Reaching into the storm drain with the picker and pulling out cigarette butts and balloon ribbons makes all of us happy, knowing we’ve stopped that yuck from getting to the ocean.
Most people, locals and tourists alike, see our shirts and note our gear, and thank us for helping to take care of Laguna. The girls have big smiles when adults tell them they are doing something good for the community. I just stand to the side, holding the butt bag and smile away.
We return to the Zero Trash station with our recycle bag bulging and our smaller butt bag stinking to high heaven and serving as a great reminder to all of us why not to smoke. Chip documents our finds, which he shares with the City Council.
After thoroughly washing, we sit on the patio at El Ranchito and enjoy a tasty meal. Hey, order the lobster: it’s half price! And feel good. A great way to start your Saturday.
Zero Trash Laguna holds clean ups the First Saturday of every month, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. www.ZeroTrash.org for info.
Rebecca Meekma is that friend who always knows something fun to do and the Calendar Editor for Parenting OC. Follow her blog at www.ParentingOC.com.