For the past couple of days, the TrashTag Challenge took over literally all of my feeds – from Facebook to Reddit to Instagram, everybody was picking up trash, and I loved it. Of course, I couldn’t just stand there, idly, I had to take part in the first internet challenge that benefited the environment, so I decided to dedicate my weekend to finding and cleaning trash somewhere, anywhere, in Bucharest.
However, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. What I thought would be a simple task requiring some gloves, some trash bags, and a pinch of determination ended up being a complicated endeavor that taught me a couple of very important life lessons.
Here’s what I learned while doing the TrashTag Challenge:
1. Parks in Bucharest Are, Actually, Impressively Clean
When I devised my plan of eradicating Bucharest’s trash (or, you know, how much a girl and her camera-shy friend can carry), I first made a list of possible locations where I could find some abandoned junk. Little did I know that, since elections are just around the corner, every patch of green within the city looked impeccable. Big parks, small neighborhood parks, no TrashTag Challenge material. This actually made me a bit proud of living in a clean(ish) city.
- We would love for our parks to be properly managed and cleaned all the time, not just when politicians want to build a platform.
2. The Environmental Impact of Condoms Is a Tricky Subject
While looking for a place in dire need of cleaning, I ended up in the Baneasa forest, the part right next to a residential neighborhood. The place was littered with condoms and wet wipes. This actually made me think about the environmental footprint of the two products, a thing I never actually took into consideration until then.
The Environmental Footprint of a Condom
According to research, condoms are bad for the environment, but they’re also good.
Let’s start with why condoms are bad for the environment:
- In 2008, alone, Americans generated 1,365 tons of plastic by using condoms.
- While latex is a natural substance, polyurethane condoms are becoming increasingly popular, therefore increasing the plastic footprint of sexually active individuals.
Oops, doesn’t sound like there could be a bright side to this, but alas, there is. Here’s why condoms are good for the environment:
- Oral contraceptives affect marine animals, lowering their fertility levels.
- By meeting the condom demand of 81 high-burden areas by 2030, researchers calculated that 17 million HIV infections, 700 million STIs, and 420 unplanned pregnancies could be avoided. Birth control can only help with the latter.
Condoms are a tricky subject, but in the end, they’re a necessary evil that could significantly improve the quality of life of millions of people. However, you could help the environment by not flushing your condom. Instead, toss it in a recycle bin.
The Environmental Footprint of a Wet Wipe
Granted, wet wipes are a step forward in terms of personal hygiene, however, they are also incredibly damaging to the environment. Because they contain plastic, wet wipes don’t really decompose, therefore filling our oceans with microplastic.
This is why wet wipes should be binned and never flushed! We went to fix a sewer pump in Lowestoft recently and this is what we found… pic.twitter.com/7W843FicQE
— Anglian Water (@AnglianWater) April 19, 2017
Moreover, people don’t realize that, since wet wipes are sturdy enough to allow you to wipe and clean various areas of your body while previously sitting in a humid environment, they’re sturdy enough to clog pipes and damage the sewer system.
- Never flush wet wipes.
- Opt for a more environmentally-friendly solution, like a bidet.
3. Plastic Bottles Are EVERYWHERE
I already talked about the effect of plastic bottles on the environment at length. And knowing just how damaging plastic bottles are, it was saddening that almost 60% of the garbage I picked up was comprised of plastic bottles (water and soda).
- Buy reusable water bottles.
- Buy sodas that come in glass bottles and recycle. Always!
4. Picking Up Trash Is More Dangerous Than You Think
Usually, whenever I have to do something, I do my homework thoroughly. Just take a look at my experiment where I tried to drink more water. However, and I really don’t know why, I never even considered the possibility of finding lots of used needles.
So, parents, please supervise your children if they want to participate in the TrashTag Challenge!
- Use gloves.
- Use a pickup stick, don’t just shove your hand in there.
- If you don’t have a pickup stick, improvise. A shovel, a fork, anything is better than risking hepatitis, or worse.
5. Disposable Needles Are a Bigger Threat to the Environment and the Community Than You May Have Imagined
Each year, about 7.5 billion needles and syringes are used outside the health care system. We’re talking about individuals that suffer from diseases like diabetes, migraines, infertility, allergies, hepatitis, HIV, etc.
Surprisingly, there are no fix regulations (not in Romania, not in the United States where the study was conducted) when it comes to the safe disposal of these hazardous materials. They just end up in the trash, transforming landfills into deadly traps.
6. Change Starts with You
Honestly, the TrashTag Challenge has rapidly become one of my favorite things on the internet because, finally, viral things weren’t just about blowing up your lips or eating Tide pods.
I honestly can’t wait for environmental consciousness to become 2019’s hottest trend. Speaking of trends, how about taking a couple more minutes of your time to learn about the environmental impact of fast fashion? That’s a whole side of continuously generated garbage we haven’t even approached today.
Anybody Can Be An Environmental Hero With a Little Effort
After I left, there was less garbage in that area, but it’s only a small patch in a big forest. I plan on convincing my co-workers to join me in an eco-friendly team-building to really polish the place before families start organizing picnics.