Guest Blog by Emma Bolton

A few of my friends and I go pick up trash and honestly, it’s so much fun! We want the environment to be healthy and yes; that may require a little work, but it is so worth it. For us it’s not work, it’s just us doing our part. I don’t understand why someone would leave trash or throw it out of their car. To me, it just doesn’t make sense. Why are people so unwilling to properly dispose of their trash? What makes them think it’s not their responsibility? Why don’t people care? How can I make a difference? Those are questions that constantly go through my head.

As an example, cigarette butts, can take years to degrade. As they do, they are breaking down into tiny pieces of plastic. These tiny pieces of plastics are called microplastics, which are incredibly dangerous for our waterways and ocean. During our last quick trash pick up, we picked up over 60 cigarette butts. Sea creatures are eating plastic because they think it’s their normal food, when it’s not. The microplastics and normal big pieces of trash end up killing them. It’s possible that the fish we eat might have eaten microplastics.

Recycling is another important way to help our environment. Reducing your trash helps just as much as picking up trash. When our family started recycling we went from four to five full trash cans weekly to an average of only two, thirteen gallon trash bags a week. If you recycle a single aluminum can you save enough energy to run a computer or TV for three hours. I recycle aluminum and steel food cans for money at our local recycling center. I in turn, send that money to Water for South Sudan, Inc. to support the building of wells for clean water for the people there. This is an example that through recycling you can also put some extra change in your pocket; instead of cans sitting in our landfills. Another idea, if we all start using reusable straws and water bottles it will reduce the amount of plastics we throw away daily. Doing all of these little steps help in a big way. If everyone reduces their trash, starts recycling, and picks up trash, our waterways and ocean will be healthier and better for everyone. When I say everyone, I mean sea creatures, land animals, and us people.

One of the most important things that I have fully realized this past year since being an EarthEcho Water Challenge Ambassador is that everything is connected. I knew that, but my participation and education through this experience really drove the message home. To create change and progress, we have to put in a little work. When I go test my local area’s water every month, I pick up trash because of the crazy amount that is everywhere. Going into natural habitats and seeing cans, cups, and straws in the landscape and floating in the water is heartbreaking. What started out as one thing grew into more as I learned how everything is truly connected.

You don’t have to go to a park, beach, or forest, you can start off by picking up trash in your neighborhood or if you live in a city you can pick up trash off of the street you live on. Our ditches in our neighborhoods carry debris with water runoff into rivers, streams, waterways that are connected to our ocean. This means that the trash that gets caught in the ditches will eventually end up in our water supplies.

I believe that everyone should have clean water. We all can do something, no matter how old or young you are, age doesn’t matter. What matters is that one by one, each of us can make change; together we can make a difference. So let’s start today! We can start by changing our thoughts, how we look at things, changing our habits, picking up trash, teaching others what’s going on in our waterways and ocean, and by recycling and reducing our waste. We might not be able to do everything on our own, but if we work together we can make a difference.

Editor’s Note: Emma Bolton is an EarthEcho Water Challenge Ambassador, a group of young leaders working to engage their communities in water quality monitoring and conservation efforts while increasing their knowledge of water science and gaining skills to expand their work in this field.