On February 3rd, I participated in the 10th Annual Francis Marion National Forest Cleanup which included a group of College of Charleston students, whom I will be joining on an Alternative Spring Break trip. One part of the Spring Break experience is participating in a pre-trip service opportunity. The event began early in the morning with many volunteers from all over the Low Country meeting at the Francis Marion National Forest Headquarters. Gloves, vests, and trash bags were provided and groups set out into different parts of the forest to cleanup, by picking up “trash”. The common items collected were beer cans and plastic bottles of various sorts. We also came across a few “personally selected dumpsites,” where people come to dispose of their trash in the middle of the forest. All of this litter and trash is harmful to this forest and the surrounding environment. But we also came across paint cans, tar buckets and building material – things which need to go to a specific dumpsite and cannot be properly disposed of even in sites designated as public landfill.
This forest used to be part of our coastal system and has dips and hills from ancient sand dunes. These lower areas fill with and hold water during certain times of the year. Besides those features, there are also creeks and waterways through the forest, all making it easy for trash and chemicals to leach and spread. The Francis Marion Forest is a unique and diverse ecosystem, providing an array of habitats for plants and wildlife. It provides many resources such as land for hunting and timber for building. Many people also hike and camp there, enjoying it’s nearly 260,000 acres of beauty. Ours, as well as every forest, play an important role on Earth in providing habitats, absorbing carbon and releasing clean oxygen, as well as keeping the hydrological cycle in balance.
I felt honored to have the opportunity to participate in the cleanup. It was a great experience to help make the forest a safer and cleaner place. However, I have several suggestions that I thought could improve the event by making it even more environmentally friendly. All trash was put into plastic bags to later be taken to landfill. Instead, if different colored bags were provided, it would be an automatic way to separate trash and recyclables. At the end of the cleanup, a barbeque lunch was kindly provided for the volunteers, but Styrofoam cups were used. Paper cups that are biodegradable should be used instead. I have always been completely dedicated to helping with environment sustainability, and often notice that the very basic and simple ways to do this are often overlooked.
While we were driving through the forest, past all the trash left on the side of the road, I noticed that there were no signs. No signs to tell people not to litter and warn them of consequence, or as a simple reminder that litter is wrong. Sometimes, something as simple as a sign will cause people to stop and think a little bit more about their actions. It doesn’t have to be sign were it threatens one to pay a fine if they litter, but it could be sign that says “litter pollutes everyone” or “keep it clean and green.” It is best to find a way to prevent the problem from occurring, then to keep putting a bandage on it.