By Keo Xiong, MD Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos courtesy of Keo Xiong, MD Middle School Program Coordinator
“The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
– Nelson Henderson
How much trash do you see flying around at the local park you frequent for walks and picnics? When was the last time you threw something away on the ground? Have you ever thrown away something that you could have recycled? In 2005, the worth of the 135 billion beverage bottles and cans that were thrown away instead of being recycled was $2.1 billion. Of those bottles that are littered and not picked up, it takes between 80 to 200 years for an aluminum can to break down naturally. If recycled, however, it takes only six weeks for it to be ready for reuse. With Earth Day approaching, these high numbers are a sobering reminder of the importance of personal and community responsibility to help keep our communities and facilities clean, safe, and healthy by eliminating littering and reducing waste.
This past weekend, AALEAD Maryland middle and high school youth spent their Saturday volunteering at the annual park clean-up at Veirs Mill Park in Wheaton, MD. With the warm and sunny weather on our side, the MD park clean-up turned out to be a great success by incorporating fun, learning, and community service.
AALEAD youth were tasked with picking up trash around a stream, which led to many splashes, wet shoes, and laughter. Youth positivity shined through despite trekking through the muddy ground and weaving through the stream carrying their heavy bags of trash and recyclables. As we got deeper into the park, youth were surprised to find large items left out as trash, such as a window air conditioner rusting and half buried in the ground, and a car tire. Can you imagine how many hundreds of years this air conditioner might have laid buried if no one came to pick it up? Through teamwork and an assembly line, youth removed these heavy items and more out of the park for proper disposal.
After our shift ended, youth reflected on their day and the impact of their service. Youth commented on their frequent use of public parks and the importance of keeping parks clean for themselves and others. In all, AALEAD youth showed that community service can be fun, rewarding, and is absolutely necessary.
Park clean-ups are an excellent opportunity for all people, young and old, to give back to the community. Not only will you help keep public parks clean and safe for community members, your efforts go a long way to keeping the planet healthy. As Earth Day approaches, reflect on your own behaviors and take active steps towards reducing your waste and adopting sustainable habits.