Evanston RoundTable, April 14, 2021
Imagine a day dedicated to being nice. They could call it, “Don’t Be a Jerk Day.” One day a year everyone has to be jerk-free, has to restrain their Inner Jerk. The other 364 they can be as big of a jerk as they want.
Ridiculous? Well-intentioned as it is, Earth Day has a similar issue. The implication is that on the other 364 days we can ravage, despoil, and desecrate our planet. Of course that’s ridiculous too, no truer than imagining we could treat our own homes like that. But the Earth is our home.
Turns out other people agree. For years neighborhood groups have organized periodic clean-up campaigns in City parks. And now there’s not just Earth Day but Earth Week and Earth Month. April is Earth Month and April 18 to 24 – which encompasses April 22, the original and annual Earth Day – is Earth Week. In connection with this heightened environmental awareness the City of Evanston has launched a “Reduce Waste Challenge,” which includes composting, reducing trash, monitoring water usage, and more. There are additional components every week of the month. Check out the details at https://www.cityofevanston.org/about-evanston/sustainability/earthweek
In addition, the Ecology Center and Robert Crown are making gloves and trash bags available during Earth Week. Visit https://evanstonroundtable.com/event/earth-month-neighborhood-clean-ups/ for more information.
All good. But why stop at a single day or week or even month? Here’s my challenge. Treat every day of the year as Earth Day! Sounds noble if a little impractical. How would that work?
First would come awareness. Watch “David Attenborough: A Life on our Planet,” which he co-wrote last year at the age of 90. The visuals, script, and his on-screen narrative are magnificent and bespeak an undiminished passion for protecting the global environment.
Then translate that passion to your surroundings. Do you do any walking in Evanston? Note the plenitude of litter on the streets and particularly in the parks. As park stewards and neighborhood organizations have pointed out, the pandemic has led to a heavy increase in park utilization this last year. As a result, there is more trash and more litter.
The RoundTable’s own Traffic Guy recently devoted an item to it. “…folks are using parks more often,” TG wrote, “but forgetting one of the primary rules of using public spaces: Leave the space cleaner than you found it. Here’s an example of one of the messes left in Lovelace Park over this past lovely, sunny, warm weekend, in the form of a note sent to the head of Friends of Lovelace Park: ‘We did a long horrible clean up this morning at the shelter — it was disgusting. The folks left meat on the grill and some of their own grills and other equipment, too, (which we didn’t touch). Mostly it was 3 bags of water and coke bottles and cans half-filled and scattered all over the playground and on almost every table in the shelter. And a huge amount of plastic eggs opened and smashed. We also got some stuff out of the pond and also off the athletic field. It was icky, and there is still lots of the park we didn’t do.’ Come on, park users,” Traffic Guy concluded, “grow up.”
It shouldn’t be necessary to scold people to clean up their messes, any more than it’s necessary to scold dog owners to pick up after their pets.
Which leads to my challenge. It’s simple: pick a street or park in Evanston and pledge to clean it. Take a bag, wear gloves, get a picker tool if you’re particularly ambitious. Head out and start picking up trash!
That may sound unrealistic to you, even off-putting. Who’s going to bother—it’s too icky, as Traffic Guy quoted from the note. But not really. In fact, it will quickly feel great: virtuous, helpful, and immensely satisfying. And it’s a great workout. I ride my bike frequently through Evanston’s parks, and my favorite is Butler, which extends along the east end of the North Shore Channel from Bridge Street to Emerson Street. There’s an attractive walking and biking path that runs through it, a beautiful and usually busy playground, a covered eating area, and some neat homes that line one side.
It’s historic too, named after Isabella Butler, the doctor who helped found the Evanston Sanitarium, a precursor to Community Hospital. At the park’s northeast end is Hill Arboretum Apartments, a one-story, 33-unit building that features affordable and accessible housing. The building is named after Dr. Elizabeth Hill, one of the City’s leading African American physicians, who with Dr. Butler helped establish Community Hospital in 1930, from which the apartments were converted in 1991. Dr. Hill delivered many prominent African American Evanstonians, including the award-winning author Charles Johnson.
I pledge to clean Butler Park. I commit to filling my trash bags of all the empty bottles, cans, gum wrappers, newspaper pages, discarded masks (safely, with a glove and my picker), plastic eating utensils, coffee cups, shards of glass, and anything else that isn’t green or a tree. Last year I found a nice pair of sunglasses there. Should I have left it? Probably. (Insert smiley face.)
Then I’ll dump the bags in one of the trash receptacles along the path or at the nearby Ecology Center.
To be honest, even though every day is Earth Day, I won’t be there on a daily basis. Or probably even once a week. After I get the park thoroughly clean, which should take four or five visits, twice a month ought to suffice. And that’s OK. If more people carried around a trash bag and a pair of gloves and picked litter off Evanston streets, curbs, and parkways, why in no time our beloved City would be sparkling clean and litter-free.
This poses an interesting question. If you’re picking up litter, what should you do with it? More specifically, can you deposit trash in anyone’s garbage can? Technically yes. As Kevin Johnson, Evanston’s Recycling and Environmental Maintenance Supervisor, told me, the City owns all garbage, recycling, and yard waste bins. Gabby, the RoundTable’sirreverent columnist, put it more emphatically in a recent column: “There are so many things in life to be concerned about, so many things to worry about, so many things to lend your voice to. The contents of your garbage can in the alley is not one of them.”
However, an irate homeowner might think otherwise (or be unaware who owns the bins) and insist you stick your trash somewhere else – especially if it is stinky dog waste. Not worth a fight, so use your own or a park receptacle.
Retail establishments: clean up your mess. Walking to a branch bank recently I saw scads of trash littering the grounds, including masks, paper receipts, gloves, plastic, and tissues. Not only is the litter unsightly, it leaves the impression the establishment doesn’t care about its surroundings. Not a good message.
Parents: take your kids and make a game of picking up trash. Who can be the quicker litter picker-upper, the biggest and best trash-buster? Instill in kids early the habit and pleasure of cleaning up the environment. Together we will breed a new generation of Environmental Warriors!
A challenge by definition is tough, but cleaning up our City is a challenge well worth pursuing.