Tennis balls and Dragonflies – part one

The Hackensack Riverkeeper cleanup of the northern part of the Oradell Reservoir just south of Blanche Ave took place today. ~ 30 people came by to help with the cleanup over the 4 hour midday period, mostly going out in canoes to collect floating debris and collect trash from the shore. I am very happy to have been able to take part in this cleanup, in part because I had almost four hours of what turned out to be a walking meditation (I was not out in a canoe) and I will share some thoughts below {disclaimer, of course, these are not necessarily the views of the HP Green Team or Environmental Commission}.

I was told that this area had been cleaned 2 years ago, but the water level was lower this year, which exposed more of the rocky banks. It was hot today, luckily with a bit of a breeze, and the sound of the breeze rustling leaves, gentle cricket chirping, the muffled sounds of traffic on Blanch and occasional airplane overhead made this a very peaceful spot to be in.

It was a bit tricky to walk on the rocky banks, while looking for trash, tricky to duck under low lying branches while reaching for distant items (with the very helpful grabber) under the bushes, shrubs, and small trees. Some stuff was obvious; to spot other pieces or trash was more like a game of “I Spy”. Old metal cans, many starting to corrode were tucked away in the rocks, and many were the same shade of grey as the rocks. Clear glass bottles were sometimes quite hard to spot. It was funny: looking at an area that I was sure was “clean” from the opposite direction (and I walked some stretch of the shoreline 6 times) I always found more stuff! 5 bags full of trash (most of the items were recyclables), including lots of plastic bottles (mostly water bottles, some even full!), brown, clear & blue glass bottles, motor oil bottles, MANY pieces of Styrofoam cups and larger ? parts of coolers, a pacifier, a Skoal can, a table hockey puck, lighters, plastic pens, soda bottles, beer cans (esp Bud), quite a few cans with pulls tops (including a Coca Cola can—and pull tops were phased out in the early 1970s), a picket fence, lumber, plywood, a Frisbee, a plastic rake handle, a knee pad, a sock, many plastic bottle tops, one decaying hiking boot, a yellow plastic bat, colored string, and balls- of all sizes and shapes! Three old soccer balls, two softballs, a few baseballs, a whiffle ball, a ping pong ball, but, what I really could not understand, were all the tennis balls. I stopped counting at 40 after just two hours of collecting.  Some looked brand new; others were just a worn rubber core…and they were everywhere…where did they all come from? (This photo- not staged- has 2 balls, a tin can, a lighter, plastic and a plastic bottle). How can so many tennis balls be lost or forgotten…and how many tennis courts are upstream of this reservoir?

While I was working, I started to think about what I was collecting- human debris, things we throw away, casual/one use items, almost all of which will be around far longer than the people who used or owned them. I remembered some of the recycling statistics (see the link below). Glass never decomposes and can be completely recycled. Paper decomposes in a few months—and there really was very little paper (only someone’s clean business card, probably just blown there); there were plastic labels though…. Styrofoam takes > 500 years to decompose in a landfill—here it was fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic bottles are 100% recyclable, and yet take many hundreds of years to decompose. All the random bits and pieces of plastic that I found (such as the orange cigar case or the red spray can top) > would likely be there in 500 years if I had not picked them up. They, however, are not necessarily recyclable and now they will be going to a landfill. The aluminum cans from 40 years ago still looked like aluminum cans (and these are 100% recyclable). I even found a site that estimates it will take 450 years for a tennis ball to decompose (and these are NOT currently recyclable). So in four short hours from part of one reservoir in Northern New Jersey a huge pile of trash was collected that could have been mostly recycled if it gotten to the proper place. http://des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/water/wmb/coastal/trash/documents/marine_debris.pdf

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This entry was posted in Fun Facts and Education, Hackensack River, Recycling, Uncategorized, Waste Disposal, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

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