Down with Pollution; Thumbs-Up to being part of the Solution

Self-proclaimed nature advocate and admirer, Lisa Heaton from the Quad Cities (Illinois), recognizes the growing problem of pollution and is set out on a journey to making a difference. Last August she became a Volunteer at the Niabi Zoo where she developed a deeper understanding on just how out of control the problem is becoming. “With volunteering at the Zoo, we had multiple training sessions that brought to light our efforts on Conservation and Preservation tactics. It was heartbreaking to see and learn about the damage we’re causing to our planet, our wildlife and their habitat.” With Lisa’s love for the outdoors, she soon realized that on every adventure she took she was constantly distracted by objects not intended for nature. “Everywhere you look there are misplaced objects like plastic articles, pop bottles, beer cans, etc. It was at that point when I decided that if I didn’t like the scenery, then I needed to be the one to try and change it.” Her first cleanup effort involved her venturing out to pick up trash while kayaking down a local river. “After seeing how much trash was gathered in only a matter of 2 hours, I was hooked on finding more areas that have been heavily polluted and in need of attention.”

Although the battle of pollution will not be won overnight, she continues her journey to ensure she is doing her part in making a difference. As one of the many personal goals and ideas that she has in mind to fight the battle against pollution, she wants to explore the world and while doing so, she has it set in her mind that she will embark on an inspiring quest to collect trash in every State within the United States. By the end of 2018, she will have at least 10 or more States that she has contributed to picking up trash in and her journey won’t end there. She not only wants to gather trash to feel as though she is serving her purpose and making a difference, but also has high hopes of reaching out to others to hopefully make more people aware of the growing problem. Trash fills the streets almost everywhere you look, but her main focus is geared towards State Parks or locations consisting of trees and wooded areas. She explains “when storms hit and the major winds blow in, there is so much debris that gets launched and trapped in the tree lines. Our wildlife friends retreat to the woods, as that’s where they raise their young ones and where they rest their heads at night. We are literally polluting the places they call home and they don’t have any say in it.” Roughly 41% of the Midwest drains into the Mississippi which then flows into the Gulf of Mexico; which then gets lost at sea until it eventually drifts into the massive Garbage Patches that are spread throughout our Oceans today. Due to her passion for nature and wildlife, Lisa finds herself spending most of her time in the timber where she attempts to gather as much garbage as she can on every adventure in hopes to prevent the ongoing issue of pollution being washed off of our lands and into the Oceans. 

With the extended knowledge and experience she gained from volunteering at the Zoo, her overall concern about the planet’s wellbeing increased significantly. Did you know that we currently have 5 giant Garbage Patches in our oceans, with the largest one occupying a space in the Pacific Ocean that is almost double the size of Texas? With these Garbage Patches, aquatic life finds themselves trapped and tangled in all the trash that ends up in our waters. Or how about the issue of our largest coral reef, The Great Barrier Reef located in Northern Australia, being roughly two-thirds of the way dead already? These fascinating ecosystems provide shelter for thousands of aquatic species and they are currently so fragile that if the average temperature in the oceans adjust 1 degree warmer than their typical climate, they can dry out and will no longer have the ability to provide a place to call home for the creatures of the sea that depend on it’s biodiversity. With 70% of the entire Earth’s surface being covered by Ocean waters, it’s been said that we’ve only discovered roughly 5% of our Oceans. With the growing pollution situation, we are forcing a number of our aquatic friends to the point of extinction; and that’s only the ones that we’re aware of. With only 5% being explored, it’s hard to fathom the thought of us never having the opportunity to discover new life forms due to the damage we are causing.  

Once the trash runs off of the banks and into the water systems, it can become a much larger battle to conquer considering the flow of water is such a powerful mechanism. The reason we have all these Garbage Patches forming is because the Ocean is acting as the final stopping ground for any trash or garbage that enters the waterways; which is why the major concerns are revolved around how the littering problem is effecting our Oceans and the creatures that live there. As the first step, it’s critical to eliminate the amount of trash that is being thrown into the environment to then avoid additional foreign items from reaching our Oceans. These are just a few of the many severe issues surrounding the ongoing pollution crisis, but they are all very serious topics and are in need of immediate attention. Not everyone has to be the person who chases down blowing trash in a crowded parking lot, as there are multiple ways for people to join in and do their part. Lisa mentions that “being more cautious on the amount of plastics you are using, investing in reusable products or items that can have multiple purposes and recycling anything and everything that you possibly can are very simple adjustments that people can make which will all have a massive impact on the problem.” Even if you don’t personally have recycling services at your home, there are multiple facilities and corporations that allow free drop-offs for sorted and recyclable items. Lisa also mentions that “another very important piece is something that I like to refer to as Keep Your Junk in the Trunk, as our trash doesn’t belong in the streets or in nature. There is literally a trashcan on every corner begging for some attention.”

Lisa will continue to work her way around the U.S. and collect trash in as many areas as she can. She adds “I’d like to challenge people to take a moment to be a little more observant and encourage them to take a look around at every stop light to recognize just how large the problem is becoming. Rather than your first instinct being to toss something out of the window, hold on to it; as there are multiple places for it but nature should never be one of those places.” There are so many different ways for people to help but the major concern is trying to avoid the amount of trash that’s being thrown into nature, which is then swept into our waters. If the constant act of littering does not stop, then it makes the battle against pollution almost unobtainable. With the limitless ways for people to help, putting a halt to the amount of trash being thrown out is ultimately the biggest first step.     

Being educated and knowing everything there is to know about our world with all the different species of life is not a requirement for people to make a difference. If you’re passionate about nature and animals, or if you just want to ensure that the generations after us still have a chance to experience this magnificent Earth, that’s all the motivation it takes to make a change. Lisa explains “I think the first step is to help people become fully aware of the problem. People don’t know that something needs to be fixed if they’re not aware that it’s broken.” It will take a collaborated effort from many to correct the problem but with everyone engaged and fully aware, things can change for the better and we can make a difference to put an end to how we mistreat the place we all call home. 

To leave us all with her final thoughts to hopefully inspire others, she claims that “nature can be so pure and beautiful to those who truly appreciate its radiance. The sheer strength of a tree’s roots, the overpowering burst of bliss from the sunshine embracing your face, the sound of wildlife stirring in the leaves or even the stunning view of an orange sunset plummeting in the distance. Now, imagine a life with piles of trash as high as the giant Red Woods which deteriorates all of the natural sceneries that we adore today. If we stay on the current path that we’re on, our breathtaking world will continue to diminish in front of our very eyes. Encourage others and yourself to think twice the next time you go to throw something out of a window and try to remember all of the available sources we have to eliminate waste. We can all make a change and everyone can become part of the solution.” How will you ensure that you are doing your part to help save our one of a kind planet?