I was driving along Route 28 in Barnstable following one of the snowiest and coldest winters in recent memory. For the first time in many weeks the snow had melted and the ground and woods were once again visible. However what I saw was not encouraging. There was trash and garbage everywhere. I thought I was driving through an old fashioned landfill. After this initial shock I noticed that this was the norm everywhere that I traveled on Cape Cod. The sides of the mid-Cape highway, Route 6, were also covered in trash and debris. This was also the case along Routes 132 and 149. It didn’t seem that any road was spared this incredible mess. None of the side streets fared any better.
I started to keep a mental tally of the kinds of trash decorating the Cape. I observed scores of plastic bags, bottles, cardboard boxes, paper wrappings, empty food containers, glass, toys, balloons, styrofoam, and clothing. There were full garbage bags containing heaven knows what. Huge sheets of paper were wrapped around the branches of trees. Rusty metal objects were abandoned providing some future archaeologist with the dubious task of identifying them.
What is going on here? Is this the Cape Cod that is so economically dependent on tourism? Is this the image we wish to project to our visitors? And more importantly, have we become oblivious to this environmental eyesore?
The truth is this is worse than an eyesore. Not only does it speak volumes about our wasteful, over-consuming lifestyles, but it can damage the environment in other ways. Many of these discarded objects, particularly plastic, find their way to the seashore, bays and estuaries. Plastic bags and related materials can become death traps to marine animals as they ingest and become entangled.
What also amazed me were the large numbers of people who were outside painting their houses, removing brush from their lawns, and setting up their homes for the warmer months. They completely ignored all the trash surrounding their properties. If each of them monitored and cleaned up a small area around their homes, the problem would not be as serious as it is.
But we would still have a problem. We still exist with a throwaway mentality on Cape Cod and elsewhere. We still falsely believe that resources are limitless. We still don’t realize that there is no “away.” With a growing population and ever increasing pressures to consume, we have damaged the environment on the Cape that sustains us. Ironically, and sadly, I made these observations on April 22, 2014 – Earth Day.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.