Philadelphia-based United by Blue (UBB) conducts commerce connected to the conservation of oceans and waterways. Today, as a participant with their “Cleanup Crew,” Philadelphia’s Tacony Creek provided a visceral example of the long-term consequences of an unsustainable society.
It’s been years since I volunteering for community service with manual labor and decades since Iast picked up discarded cans and bottles. This was UBB’s first cleanup at Tacony Creek and its literal state underscored the long-term impact of poor decisions. The experience proved powerful beyond the physical sight and smells alone.
UBB mixes engagement with education, but it would go too far to call this activity entertainment. In addition to decades-old consumer waste, teams uncovered other objects including a crack pipe, a bowling ball, an emptied wallet, a bicycle as well as an artificial cornucopia. However, upon reflection, these objects’ meaning reached far beyond novelty.
For me, each discarded object was linked to a distinct yet anonymous and unknown story. However, I avoided attributing these artifacts to innately negative connotations. Instead, I considered the lengthy and interwoven chain of potential events tied to each piece of litter.
The sum of these parts reminded me of the increasingly complex and fragmented world in which small actions can quickly result in significant outcomes and impacts. Most of all, the experience underscored the necessary and essential characteristics of a more sustainable society: collaboration, transparency, thoughtfulness, intent, and empathy.