Tuesday October 29, 2013 | 09:00 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

A week ago I wrote up a little journey tracing tiny Goosefare Brook from Saco Bay up to its source at Saco Heath. I crossed many highways & byways to follow its path. And it was fun.

It was also eye-opening.

Every single time that Goosefare Brook met with humanity, it also met with humanity’s waste.

Here, from source to mouth:


Jenkins Road


Industrial Road


Rt 1


I-195


Old Orchard Road


Seaside Avenue (mouth of the Goosefare)

Highways, byways, tiny backroads. Doesn't matter. Our insatiable thirst for "stuff" leaves its mark everywhere. How does X get into the ocean? This is how.

Inevitably, maybe with the next rainstorm, these plastics will fall into the brook. There they’ll make their long & tortured path to the ocean. One storm/flood at a time. They won’t go away. They won’t stop.

--------------------------------------------------

The point of the above isn’t to make people shake their heads. Nothing is gained by grumbling, “People shouldn’t litter,” or “That’s such a shame.” People do litter. Some people are jerks. Some make mistakes. Accidents happen. Storms happen. Trash gets knocked out of garbage bins & blown down roadsides. (Maine is windy -- did you notice?)

Litter Happens.

The “Keep America Beautiful” project was begun by the consumer-products industry 60 years ago. It was a way to shift the burden of litter from the makers of single-use disposable junk onto all of us.

So people “Adopt Highways,” and participate in the “Great American Cleanup.”

60 years later, our roadsides are filthier than ever. Largely because -everything- that gets lost or littered now is plastic, and doesn’t go away. Rainstorms don’t melt it. Rust and rot don’t turn it into dust. It’s plastic. It’s there forever.

After-the-fact cleanup was never more than a feel-good. Now it’s barely that. Here is a sign of a road sponsor, looming literally over one of the dirtiest & foulest stretches of road that I found.

Clean-ups and grumbling aren’t serious answers. Too often they’re sponsored by people who don’t want the burden of change to rest on them.

The answer may be too big. Plastic is everywhere. The industry lobby is huge. They love making “cheap” products that have huge costs they’re not paying. They’ve perfected the blame game.

But the answer does exist. It comes first from admitting that convenience has costs, that throwaway living has costs. That cheap has costs.

Whether we have the courage to admit that will decide how future generations look back on ours.

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About the Author

Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

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