Step up to help clean up islands

By Steve Estes

With the dawning of a new year come promises from all levels of government that things will get better, even if there are no concrete plans to make them so that we are privvy to.

And except at the ballot box come November, there is really we as ordinary citizens can do to influence what it is that government will decide to do in the coming months.

We detest what the political landscape has become in the last decade, two extreme groups fighting ad nauseum for control based on ideological grounds rather than on common sense grounds.

So perhaps we should start looking at ways we can make our own lives better without the aid of government at any level.

And one of those areas comes to mind every single day as we tool up and down the lone highway we have in the Keys, or cruising across the back roads of this little slice of islands that we call home.

We have all seen areas across our islands that have become de facto dumping grounds for human trash. And we hear a lot of people complaining about the trashy look.

So our challenge to you is to do something other than complain.

Throughout the course of the coming year, there will be dozens of organizations that will coordinate and carry out shoreline and inland clean up campaigns.

If you have ever complained about the trashy state of our islands, then we challenge you to volunteer for any one of these dozens of events.

Spending a few hours of your year picking up human trash is not such a bad way to show your love of the island chain many of us call home, whether that be year round, or whether that be just a few months, or even a few weeks.

If every person who spends even a few weeks here in the Florida Keys spent four hours just picking up trash other human beings leave in their wake, it wouldn’t be long until even the most strident of complainers about our trashy landscape would have nothing left to complain about.

We do get help in this endeavor.

The Monroe County Public Works Department monthly sends crews out to pick up human-caused trash on our rights-of-way and back woods. There have been months where this small crew removed upwards of 30 tons of trash from our landscape.

Routinely, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office sends out prisoners that are incarcerated in our local jails to clean up trash alongside our roadways. This is a small effort on the part of these prisoners, always non-violent offenders with good track records while incarcerated, to give back a little to the system they wronged in some way.

These are tax dollar expenditures we should all be able to get behind and support.

But of course, these cases aren’t enough to keep up with the steady flow of trash that our visitors, and our locals, toss into our landscape every day.

And if we want to maintain the beauty of our island chain, it’s time we start to pitch in and help.

Of course, we must also rely on our local law enforcement personnel to do their part before the problem becomes larger than it is.

Littering is illegal. Dumping of household waste anywhere other than a certified landfill is illegal.

We would expect our local law enforcement officers, be they attached to a county, municipal, state or federal agency, to be proactive in citing anyone they find illegally dumping human waste on our beautiful landscape.

Of course, it is also up to us to keep an eye out for major dumping, and notify our public works crews if we spot a pile of human trash somewhere that we know it shouldn’t be.

Don’t call 911 for littering. That’s an emergency line and needs to stay clear for that purpose. But calling the local substation, or just mentioning littering you’ve seen to a local officer when you run across them in the grocery store or restaurant will remind them that we are concerned about the issue and possibly spur them to help us help ourselves.

Many of us came to the Keys because we are independent souls who look to ourselves to solve our issues.

This is an area where we can directly affect our own lives.

Grab some gloves, heft a trash bag, and spend a few hours this coming year walking the streets of your neighborhood, or walking the shoreline of your favorite beachfront. Bend over and pick up the human trash you see.

If each of us gives just a little effort, the change will be enormous and we will have improved all our lives with no regard to political party or governmental agency.

Help our environment. Help ourselves.

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