I have spent 94.9% of my life in northwest Montana, but a few years ago I had the opportunity to work at an international school in the Middle East. When I moved to Oman on the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most striking cultural differences wasn’t the Arabic language or the abayas – there was a large expat population with a mix of languages and styles in which I could familiarize myself with.
For me, it was trash in “wild” spaces. One of our first weekends, we drove a few hours up to Jebel Shams, a remote mountain, to camp with friends. We spent a good chunk of our time picking up trash in bags to get back down the mountain. For our “Discover Oman” field trips, we took students out into the ocean to fill dozens of trash bags with plastic we found along the beach.
“It’s a young country,” I was told. “America was the same in the 70s.” And indeed, it took marketing and education campaigns and fines to change Americans’ attitude about throwing things “away” by throwing them out the car window onto the freeway – and we still have a long way to go.
In Oman, not all waste comes from residents either. Like any coastal society, much of it is thrown ashore by other places. Living near the ocean sometimes makes it easier to see how interconnected the planet is. Foreign waste and rising water levels driven by foreign carbon emissions appear in your neighborhood, your backyard.
But we are interconnected wherever we are. As isolated and landlocked as Montana may seem, the watershed is impacted by pollution from around the world. Aerial carbon deposits from as far away as China are landing on the snow in the high country and accelerating the melting. And our pollution moves downstream to affect other areas. Plastic bottles that fall into the Clark Fork River end up becoming microplastic marine snow flowing endlessly through the Pacific.
According to the non-profit organization Keep American Beautiful, the total amount of garbage in the United States has decreased by 61% since 1969. However, Plastic waste increased by 165% during this period. Roads and waterways in the United States are the most common places to find trash, with slightly more along waterways. That’s also true here in Montana.
Although the most effective action we can take is to stop littering, it also helps clean dirty areas. Approximately 85% of litter is the result of individuals intentionally dropping, brushing, throwing and abandoning their trash. And if we see trash around, we are more likely to add our own trash.
A 2020 Keep America Beautiful study found that a significant contributing factor to litter is the amount of litter already existing in the environment. To counter this effect, we can collect plastic and other waste that has been thrown, dropped or blown across the landscape and recycle or pile it in a central landfill.
One way to be a part of that is to join the Clark Fork Coalition and hundreds of volunteers for the 2022 Clark Fork River Cleanup, Thursday, April 21 through Sunday, April 24. This DIY river service event is fun, family-friendly, and helps clean up some 180 miles of shoreline in the Clark Fork Basin. You can register online for your favorite section of the river (or add your own), then come to the river anytime during the four-day period to collect trash and recyclables. Garbage and recycling can be dropped off at three convenient sites around town.
The Clark Fork Coalition provides vinyl gloves and biodegradable bags or reusable five-gallon buckets for recyclable materials. Supplies can be picked up at the Clark Fork Coalition office at 140 S. 4and W. Street between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. from April 18 to 22.
In a river city like Missoula, we get so much from the waterway that connects us. From beauty and recreation, to economic and cultural benefits, to aquatic resources, we humans benefit from what the river gives us. But a healthy relationship with the river requires that the river also benefits us. We can care for the plants, fish and wildlife that are part of the ecosystem by choosing where we grow, how we develop, how much water we take from the system for our use. And we can pick up our trash.
For more information on the 2022 Clark Fork River Cleanup or to register a team, visit clarkfork.org.
Samantha Dwyer is the Clark Fork Coalition’s Digital Content Manager.
This enduring Missoula column is brought to you – via Missoula Stream – most weeks by Climate-Smart Missoula and Home Resource.
Here we offer ideas on sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. To learn more, consider signing up for the Climate Smart eNewsletter via their homepage here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.
Missoula WINTER Farmer’s Market continues at Southgate Mall, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Until April 23.
April 6. 12 p.m. – MREA’s Exploring Energy series covers microgrids
April 6. 5:15 p.m. –Climate Smart Missoula hosts Part 2 of the Electrify Missoula series – Turning Off the Gas: Why – and How – to Electrify Our Homes and Buildings. Through Zoom.
April 7. 7:45 p.m. at the Roxy Theater: Special screening of The spirit of the peaks, followed by a Q&A with Indigenous skier Connor Ryan, to benefit UM Enviro. Law group and association of Native American law students.
April 21 to 24 – Clark Fork Coalition’s Annual River Cleanup – this year is a four day do-it-yourself cleanup covering over 30 miles of river. Choose the place, day and time that suits you best.
April 22. 7 p.m. – Project Earth, a multimedia fusion of art, science and community engagement around the climate crisis, featuring UM music sets, TED-style presentations and inspiration for action. At the Dennison Theater on the UM campus. Ticketing and more details to come.
April 22 – 23. Kyiyo’s 53rd powwow. At the Adam Center at the University of Montana.
April 23. 12pm-4pm – MUD Earth Day Celebration, on the MUD/HomeResource website. The festival will feature an environmental exhibition, activities and workshops for children and adults, educational programs, as well as local food, drink and music. Details: mudproject.org/events/earth-day/
April 23. 11am-2pm – WildWalk & Wildfest, in conjunction with the International Wildlife Film Festival.
April 23 – May 7 – International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula – online and in person!
April 28. 6:30 p.m. – The right to a clean and healthy environment: a round table with the young plaintiffs of Held v. Montana, the first youth climate case to go to trial in the United States. Organized by Montana Interfaith Power and Light and Families for a Livable Climate. Via Zoom – register here.
Don’t Forget – Material Donations to Home Resource spins the wheels of reuse in our community; and remember everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff can be found at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.