This afternoon we headed out to kayak and enjoy another gorgeous summer day! Since it was weekday, there were only a few boats buzzing around the lake when we arrived. The lake was like glass and we were excited to see the sandy bottom as we started to paddle!
We chatted about seeing the remnants of last week’s 4th of July parties as we headed toward the popular boat “tie off” area a few hundred yards from shore. On a holiday weekend, there can be more than a hundred boats in this area. People enjoy the shallow waters where they can walk between boats and swim or hang out with friends and family.
The city fireworks were also set off at this end of the lake which added a lot of boat traffic. And as a side note, they started selling fireworks in different parts of New York State this year. Sorry about that revenue Pennsylvania! They even trust us to use sparklers now for two weeks (?) each year.
But this also added to the potential for more trash and sadly, a few injuries too.
We spent time paddling around the tie off area and noticed just a few beer cans. But then we saw the red Solo Cup on the lake bottom. Our predictions about the weekend partying and garbage mess were coming true… And sorry Toby Keith, only drunk folks would think that “a red solo cup is cheap and disposable, and in fourteen years they are decomposable.” The MWA thinks differently too.
But the only things we found after more paddling were a pair of sunglasses and a sparkly hair tie! (OK – so we did get a little excited when we saw all the sparkles of that hair tie under water!)
Where was all the holiday trash? We saw all the boats on July 4th and even though we didn’t paddle the whole area in our kayaks, we could see quite a distance underwater as we paddled along. And the volume of trash we expected just wasn’t there.
After another hour of paddling, we took a slightly different route as we headed back to the launch. We covered an area of the lake we missed when we started our paddle and we collected a few more cans and bottles. But based on the zebra mussels and faded logos, at least three of the containers were not from last week’s parties.
Bet the return machine won’t like that Keystone can! And yes, beer does appear to be the beverage of choice for those who “leave” things behind.
My husband also found a pair of goggles and a snorkel! (Unfortunately, some poor little kid probably put them on the back step of a boat and forgot them as they headed home.) And as we arrived near shore, he reached down in the water to find a shiny Pizza Hut employee name tag. A late night swim after work or? Hmmm…
So our original guess about the lake having loads of trash in it was wrong. It may look like we collected a lot, but that amount of garbage was for 5 total hours of kayaking at a very busy lake, just a week after the 4th of July celebrations.
Did we just have a “glass have empty” pessimistic attitude when we started our paddle?
Here are a few ideas about where the garbage went:
1) We have made some real PROGRESS.
People are being more careful about not polluting our waters. They are following environmental initiatives in many parks including “pack in, pack out” and they are recycling more too. And here in New York State, we have to pay a 5 cent deposit on most cans and bottles, so it is more likely that someone will pick them up and return them rather than throw them away.
Ironically there was a story on the local news this week about whether NY should get rid of the Returnable Container Law. From our experience, the local news findings, and from research by the Department of Environmental Conservation, the container deposit program works to preserve the environment and decrease pollution. And many say it should be expanded to other beverage containers as well (not just soda & beer) and that the cost of the deposit should be higher too.
Check out the Bottle Bill website and the State Beverage Container Deposit Laws site to learn more about the history of container deposit bills and to find links on more information about container deposit laws in the United States and around the world.
There is also a call to end these laws because of fraud. Do you remember the Michigan bottle scam Seinfeld episode with Kramer and Newman? It is referenced in this article about bottle return fraud.
Other states want to move to a tax rather than a deposit. They say that funds raised would be used to promote recycling and anti-littering programs. (Hey teachers – we know you already talk about this with kids, but now it will probably be a new mandate to add to everything else you already do! And yes, I was a teacher.)
We are far from “leave no trace behind”, but it does seem like we are moving in a good direction.
2) Are there Other “Pickers”?
The fourth of July was a week ago and maybe other boaters or kayakers took time to clean up the lake bottom as well. We are probably not the only good Samaritans out there 🙂 But it has been a warm and breezy week, so I’m not sure the visibility in the water was anything like we had today.
Or maybe someone is can picking from the lake as a side hustle?
Collecting cans to return for the deposit does supplement the income of many people all different walks of life. And in states where there is no deposit, some cans and bottles may be accepted at recycling centers for money. But times have changed with recycling redemptions too.
3) Or is it Simply Drifting Away?
Maybe we are giving the boaters way too much credit! With the warm southern breezes, did the trash just float down the lake? We know that some of it did. My “data point” (daughter) works at the beach near the boat tie off area and she cleaned up loads of watermelon rinds, some cans, and things like aluminum foil for a few days after the 4th.
So maybe most boat “junk” floats and that is why we didn’t see much at the bottom. But my daughter did say that when they thought about of the number of boats that were tied up that long weekend, they had much less clean-up than they had expected. And based on this chart , that’s a really good thing.
So what does this mean?
To be honest, I’m not sure. It is likely a combination of all three of the ideas I presented.
But I am going to be optimistic and think that we are making progress! I think that more people are making smart decisions to help protect our environment and the container deposit law definitely helps in our area!
Certainly the goal would be no garbage in the lake. But when I consider what we found, I think almost all of the items could have ended up in the lake by accident. I’d like to believe the beer cans weren’t just thrown in the water. Yes, there are always a few jerks – but empty cans in a strong breeze can blow into the water. It’s happened to me too.
And for the watermelon rinds, people probably thought that they were “returning them to nature”. Not the best move, but it’s certainly not the worst thing either.
I’m optimistic, but there is certainly work that needs to be done. In addition to the garbage, these little friends who came to visit me during our paddle are also a problem.
Those cute ducks are a problem? OK – the ducks aren’t a problem, but their behavior is the issue.
In mid-May when we first put our kayaks in the lake, the ducks would quickly swim away from us. Today they swam right at me (and yes, almost scared me!)
And why is that? You probably guessed it. People in the boats are feeding them. Bread and crackers are not their natural diet and it does nothing to help the young ducks figure out how to find food. Just remember that those foods are not all that healthy for you, and they are not healthy for the ducks either.
Readers – Have you noticed any improvement in the environmental decisions people are making in the in your area? Or are people just being lazy and dumping things in nature where you like to swim or play? What about the container deposit law? Do you have one in your area? If not, do you think it would help or does everyone just recycle? What do you think of states adding a tax instead of having the container deposit?
And do you remember that Seinfeld episode with Kramer and Newman driving the mail truck to Michigan? We searched it and watched it again – and realize how much we missed Seinfeld!