Updated: May 6
This is a short story I wrote a few of years ago, but I think it is still true. I want to clarify that this is not a true story, and I am not the protagonist, it is just something I wrote. Also, I have a brief explanation of the story's meaning at the bottom.
It was the perfect day for the beach. The sun was shining, the waves were massive, and I had the day off of school. It was so peaceful out in the waves, just me, my board, and the water. The perfect wave was coming my way, so I got ready. It had a little white tip but the rest was as smooth as glass. When the wave got closer, I realized that the white foam tip on the wave was actually a dirty diaper. The beach had always had straws and cigarettes, but this was disgusting. I realized right then and there, that I needed to be doing more to keep the ocean clean.
I started going to the beach cleanups every Saturday, and it surprised me just how much trash there was. The more I looked, the more I saw. Our beach was filled with trash. It horrified me that I had not only not noticed the thousands of little plastic wrappers, straws, cigarette butts, and other small pollutants, but that I might have contributed to it. The beach cleanups were great; every weekend we would pick up tons of trash. It felt amazing to help the planet. I got a lot of my friends to join so I wouldn’t get bored during the cleanups. After a few months of weekly cleanups, I realized that there was more trash piling up every week. Even though we picked up tons of trash, it was always back by the next weekend. I thought about it the whole night. The trash must have been coming from the nearby Pinewood River. The next day, I walked down to the river, and sure enough, it was full of trash. I walked along the river to the beach, and I saw that all of the garbage in the river dumped straight into the ocean about 200 meters from our beach cleanups. I then observed that the trash drifted past my surf spot and landed on the beach right by where our beach cleanups were taking place. I went home and thought about what I could do to solve this problem. After a few hours of brainstorming and research, I decided to start an organization to clean the river.
I called city hall to talk to them about starting my organization. No one answered, so I left a voicemail. I called again the next day, and the same thing happened. Finally, after a week of unanswered calls, someone picked up. I told them about my idea and they gave me the number of the environmental services manager and told me to call him. I did, and he said he was busy and told me to call again tomorrow. When I called back, he told me the same thing. After a few days, he stopped answering my calls altogether. I persisted, and after a while, he finally broke and let me talk to him. I explained my plan and he said I couldn’t do it.
“Why can’t I start my organization?” I asked.
“You’re too young. Plus, it would never work,” he said
“What do you mean I am too young?”
“You can’t start an organization like this until you are 18, and you clearly aren’t. How old are you?”
“Why does it matter how old I am?”
“I don’t know. It’s just the rule.”
“Can’t you change the rule?”
“That’s just the way it is.”
“Why did you say it wouldn’t work?”
“You would have to put in a lot of time. I don’t think you’re up for that.”
“I am. Really, I am,” I pleaded
“OK,” he said sarcastically.
I went home and asked my mom about the age problem. After a few minutes of discussion, we figured out that she could start the organization but I would be in control. The next day my mom created Pinewood River Cleanup, and I got a lot of my friends from the beach cleanups to join.
For the next couple of months, we would clean the beach on Saturdays and the river on Sundays. We were making great progress. The river was the cleanest anyone could remember and the water was finally clear. On Sunday nights, after we finished cleaning the river, there was practically no trash. It was great. After a while, we started to realize that while the river was clean, the beach was still full of trash. There was definitely less trash, but not enough to be significant.
We had won the battle of the river but lost the fight of the beach. My friends and I sat down to discuss what had happened and why our plan did not work. After doing some extensive research, we found that the river was not the only way the trash was reaching the beach. People were littering and the trash was going in the storm drains that led to the ocean. Every time it rained trash would wash trash into the ocean. There was also another river nearby that was very polluted, and some people were straight-up littering on the beach. To solve the last problem, we put out some more trash cans, but it did not make a difference. We finally realized that we needed to start a larger program that stopped the trash from getting onto the streets and beaches instead of picking it up after it was already there.
Thanks for reading! What I am trying to get at here is that we can clean up after ourselves all we want, but unless we stop making a mess, we will never be able to stop cleaning up. We need to treat the symptoms of our problems because we've already done so much damage, but this will be in vain unless we also treat the system. So we must push for systemic change on local, state, national, and international levels if we want to see true progress.