My Community And Its Trash Argumentative Essay
Henry David Thoreau once asked, “What's the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?” This question always comes to mind every time I drive around our neighborhood, which is lined with houses Thoreau might describe as "fine." These fine houses are as pretty as houses go. However, our neighborhood has one undisguised problem: the surroundings are not clean. They are dirty. They are unkempt. People just throw their trash in open spaces and alleys. Furthermore, the garbage collection system is inefficient, and people never had the initiative to clean the open spaces beyond their backyards. And as far as I know, no one has ever thought of bringing the matter to local authorities. The neighborhood association has not paid attention to it as well, knowing they will have to do the cleaning themselves. Because of this, the trash continue to rot where they were dumped. Interestingly, no one seems to be bothered by the unpleasant smell they produce. Citizens may be hoping they will decompose enough and fertilize the soil, saving them the trouble of picking them up.
This environmental problem is direct consequence of our actions. We are living in an era aptly named the "Age of the Consumer." In the past three decades alone, people have consumed one-third of the planet's natural resources. The U.S., home to only 5% of the world's population, consumes 30% of the world's resources and generates 30% of the world's waste. In 2007, Americans produced 570 billion pounds of municipal solid waste (Leonard 1). These numbers are growing as well, for the United States is generating waste at an alarming rate. On average, each American disposes 1,650 pounds of garbage every year, or about 4.6 pounds per person each day, which is twice as much as they did 30 years ago (Hawken 3).
What these statistics tell us is that we are trashing our planet, and knowingly so. We produce more than what we are capable of consuming. From this pattern emerged what is called the consumer culture, a culture that is a by-product of industrialism and commercialism. This emerged because we have become increasingly greedy. And our capitalist economy relies on our greed. Products are designed to be replaced immediately, a state called obsolescence.
Now, this greed has allowed us to produce as much trash as we have, and we are starting to run out of places to discard them. Even though landfills have been established in order to manage solid waste, they are unsafe and they threaten to contaminate groundwater. Waste incineration is another way of getting rid of solid waste, but this is impossible to regulate. Incineration releases toxic chemicals, such as lead and mercury, which may harm people who get exposed to them. In the absence of an efficient solid waste management system in land, the ocean has become an alternative place to dispose our trash into. Scientists had warned that this is a less than brilliant idea, but our waste still ended up in the Pacific, creating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is also known as the Pacific trash vortex. Waste is exceedingly harmful to marine life. Seals and other marine mammals are especially at risk. Your discarded plastic bag could end up in the ocean and be mistaken for food by turtles, and it would immediately kill them. What we think is a harmless lifestyle is actually destroying our ecosystem. Whether the general population knows this or not is open to debate, but ignorance is not an excuse in the internet age. So, now, the question is, why aren't we doing something about it? Even if we are, why is it not enough?
Environmental issues affect everyone, and it is surprising how very few people care enough to do something about it. Even a minor lifestyle change could make a difference. More importantly, this does not only affect our generation, but the future generation as well. If we do not stop polluting our environment, decades from now there will no longer be trees and wildlife. Imagine a world where the only fish or grandchildren will ever come to know is Nemo, because the bodies of water will be too polluted to allow marine life to survive. What will our grandchildren eat? When they go to beaches, they will have to swim among plastic bottles because we let our trash end up there. Garbage is a huge problem. We may not recognize it as such, but there will come a time when we will have to leave our own planet. Not because of overpopulation, but because it will be too crowded with trash. And all because we wanted more of everything.
I think one of the reasons why we have not done anything significant to solve this problem is because the general population have resigned to the hopelessness of the situation. It is easy to think that our individual actions cannot have a significant difference, and that it is utterly impossible to undo the damage that has already been done. If we are going to solve this problem, we must first stop this defeatist attitude. It may be true that as individuals the change we initiate may not have a significant effect. However, as a collective, we have a huge chance of making a lasting difference.
In order to achieve this, the citizens must come together and solve environmental problems to improve their surroundings and create a community that’s sustainble.  It requires citizen participation in order to achieve this. Everyone must be included in planning and making environmental decisions. Also, it must rest on the principles of environmental justice, which is the idea that everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, income, or race deserves a healthy environment within which to work and play.
The following are steps communities could follow in order to solve environmental problems.
First, environmental education should be carried out. All members from different sectors or age group must be educated on environmental issues so that they will learn to protect nature and be able to make informed decisions about protecting our resources and habitat (Hokenmaier, 3). Citizens should be taught that we are interconnected parts to a whole, and every action we make, every trash we generate, will affect the ecosystem and even the future generation. They should also learn how to solve our solid waste problem. Various experts have suggested that the solution is not to manage waste, but to reduce the volume and the toxicity of garbage, and to finally eliminate it, a vision called Zero Waste. There are many ways to move to Zero Waste. These include ensuring that recycling facilities are widely available; creating a market for recycled materials; prohibiting companies from using toxic ingredients and requiring them to produce products with minimum packaging; to require manufacturers to be responsible for their waste; to reduce the number of landfills and incinerators; and to make waste regulations more citizen friendly and shift the burden of proof to companies.  The community could do lobby things together. As a whole, their voices have a greater chance of being heard.
After learning the problems and possible solutions, citizens should have a community planning session. The objectives of this session is to identify the most evident environmental problems in their community. They should be able to outline achievable goals and develop a systematic process that will reach these goals. They should come up with a timetable and schedule future meetings and assessments.
Next, the citizens should form committees that will have specific roles. For example, one committee could be tasked to lobby regulations to the local and federal government. If there was a factory that dumped toxic waste into the lake near the community, this committee will be the one to bring the matter to the authorities. Their task is to be the voice of the community. They could ask everyone to sign petitions and then show them to local authorities as proof that these issues are collectively acknowledged. Another committee could be the fundraising committee. Their task is to ensure the proper implementation of the community's projects by securing funds and sponsorships. Another one could be the advertising committee, and they will be in charge of promoting the projects through social media or other methods of advertisement.
Finally, the committees should come up with projects that directly impact the current problems. The projects should be sustainable and achievable. Once the projects have become successful, the community should promote their movement and encourage other communities to do the same as well. This will pave the way for a more environmental conscious nation.
In the case of my community, our most pressing environmental problem is garbage. The following are some projects our community could start with.
One project is a community clean up day, involving students, employees, employee families, and other members of the community. Prior to that day, a team will roam around the neighborhood and map the waste by taking photos of the areas that need to be cleaned and marking them on the map. After identifying the garbage locations, citizens who signed up for the clean-up day will be assigned to those areas. On the day itself, the citizens will come together and go to their respective areas. They will clean not just their immediate surroundings, but public places, neglected lots, and alleys as well. They will collect the trash, separate recyclable from non-recyclable, and send them out accordingly. Recyclable trash will be sent to recycling facilities, and non-recyclable garbage will be brought to the nearest landfill.
Aside from cleaning up the waste, a mechanism should be in place in order to achieve sustainability. For example, the community could implement a ban on using or buying plastic water bottles. If there is no recycling facility in their area, they could build one and hire people from their community to run it. This will serve the purpose of generating jobs as well. They could also station satellite dumpsters or waste containers at various locations in the project area, and coordinate/fund trash pickup (Ideas for Environmental Community Projects, 2).
The community could also sponsor a neighborhood beautification project, including the beautification of a local park. The citizens could organize a picnic and collectively plant trees and flower and pick-up trash.
In addition, the youth should be given a role as well because they are an important part of the community. They should be educated and involved so they will grow up being aware of the consequences of their actions. They will be the ones to continue the advocacies of the community, so they should be engaged as early as possible. Moreover, they should be encouraged to start their own projects that address environmental issues, whether in school or in the community. To start, they could conduct a household waste collection day for tires, paints, automotive fluids, batteries, aerosol cans, cardboard, and e-waste (electronic components). Furthermore, they should be represented in community planning sessions as well. The school could also hold an environmental awareness day to further educate the students. Together with local businesses, the community could also organize an annual summer environmental awareness camp for children.
Aside from environmental improvement activities, the community should also focus on environmental education. As mentioned earlier, educating the community is one of the first steps in building a more environmental-conscious community. The community could invite an expert on the field and conduct a neighborhood tour wherein the expert could explain environmental impacts and other issues of environmental significance to every household. This more personal approach aims to make the citizens feel that as individuals their participation is important and needed.
In summary, I have identified the main problem of our community, which is having unaccounted for trash. I have established why this is not only a problem found in our community, but it is also an issue the whole country and many parts of the world struggle with. Based on statistics, this problem is unlikely to go away unless we go to the root cause (overconsumption) and take immediate steps to mitigate its damages. I have outlined some steps which the community could replicate, and I have cited some environmental projects they could start with. I have also emphasized the importance of youth participation in solving environmental problems.
In conclusion, the importance of solving worldwide issues through a bottom-up approach cannot be overemphasized. The whole could do so much more than the individual parts could when left to their own devices. It is important that we each recognize the part we play in the complex interconnectedness of circumstances. Moreover, the planet is the only place we will ever know in our lifetime. It has offered us a lot, but we keep demanding for more. It is high time we stop destroying and littering the planet that has conquered statistical improbabilities to harbor life. This is the only way we could show our gratitude. And even though we cannot undo the damages, we can still prevent it from getting worse. As average citizens, the good news for us is that we are all capable of doing something beneficial for the environment. And this all starts where we presently are. We do not have to go far to save the planet. We could start by saving our community.
Hokenmaier, Sarah. "Civic Environmentalism." Learning to Give. Web. 3 Apr. 2015. <http://learningtogive.org/papers/paper10.html>.
“In 2005, U.S. residents, businesses, and institutions produced more than 245
million tons of MSW, which is approximately 4.5 pounds of waste per person per
day.” Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2007.
Leonard, Annie. "Facts from The Story of Stuff." The Story of Stuff. Web. 4 Apr. 2015. <http://www.storyofstuff.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/annie_leonard_facts.pdf>.
Hawken, Paul. Natural Capitalism, Little Brown and Company, (1999). Excerpted from page 4: “In the past three decades, one-third of the planet’s resources, its ‘natural wealth,’ has been consumed.”