by Joy Jarman-Walsh (jjwalsh)*
*all photographs attributed to JJ Walsh
Communities the world over are lending a hand to help clean up the plastic pollution that litters our local riversides and beaches. We’ve learned it’s important to get plastic waste out of the waters before it enters the food chain, damages the environment, and kills marine life.
Japan has an image of being very clean. A typical impression of international travellers to Japan is how clean and tidy the streets, walkways and roads are in comparison to their home country. Neighbourhood and city cleaning is an embedded part of Japanese life. In fact, many company employees will clean the inside of their offices as well as in front of their office building. Companies and cities employ staff who also work diligently to keep public areas tidy.
When it comes to beaches and riversides, however, this somehow falls outside the normal societal focus of cleaning duty. Unfortunately a lot of pollution slowly builds up. This pollution is due to multiple factors including littering, storms, as well as industrial waste.
In Hiroshima one of the central contributors to plastic pollution in the water comes from the local oyster industry. Any ferry ride to islands off the coast, pass through hundreds of floating oyster farms. Each of these floating platforms use approximately 27,000 plastic tubes (pipes) and a lot of styrofoam. Details available on the website of the Japan Environmental Action Network organisation (JEAN: http://www.jean.jp/).
This oyster industry plastic pollution can be seen on every beach and riverbank in Hiroshima, and has been found on neighbouring beaches and as far as Hawaii. These plastic tubes, discs and styrofoam wash ashore in the thousands in and around Hiroshima area every day. This problem is a core reason why I started organising monthly clean-ups here. The clean-ups create awareness as well as take a little of this pollution out of the water each month.
I grew up on the island of Oahu, Hawaii and I think my childhood home deeply influenced me to have a particular love for the Aina (nature). Hawaiians have a particular connection to nature as a part of one’s family to love and take care of.
Each month I post clean-up volunteering event information on our regional social media and website. A small team of 3-15 volunteers regularly meets up for 1-2 hours of clean-up at a central riverside or beach. These clean-ups have consistently collected more than 20 kilograms of plastic trash each time. The local Hiroshima city garbage authority has been supportive offering us bags and pick up of the garbage after the clean-up events. Most of our volunteers are international residents living in Hiroshima, but sometimes international tourists and local Japanese residents will join us.
It seems the awareness of the global plastic pollution problem is more prevalent internationally than in Japan at the moment. However, when we have a chance to work side-by-side with residents and hear their surprise and comments during clean-ups, I feel confident this is a good way to develop a more general understanding of the local problem. The most impressive aspect of organising clean-up events is seeing how volunteers take their experience to the next level by changing their daily habits to create less waste.
I have certainly changed my own lifestyle choices since doing regular clean-ups. Now, we compost all of our kitchen waste, I use my own bags and containers whenever possible while shopping, choose places to eat and shop that provide goods and services with less packaging, and carry my own mug, water bottle and utensils. These lifestyle changes have significantly decreased the amount of waste our family generates.
I strongly feel that volunteering as an international person visiting or living in Japan has a particular significance on local communities. It can give a certain level of credibility and connection to the local community by making an effort to help with local problems. Community perceptions of volunteering in Japan is very positive and can help to counterbalance the overcrowding of local attractions as well as other local feelings of annoyance at the sudden influx of international tourism in Japan.
The word is slowly spreading and we now have a few people who have become dedicated regulars joining our monthly clean-up effort. Others who haven’t been able to join us sometimes tag me online with clean-up news articles, or to share photos and news of their own clean-up activities. This wider effect of our clean-ups is wonderful and something I had not expected might happen. It’s not always easy to rally volunteers every month, but it’s been a great family challenge to launch with my teenage son. Even if it is only the two of us who make it to the designated clean-up area some months, that’s actually fine, as it still means we are meeting our monthly clean-up goals and able to follow through on our mantra to just ‘do what we can do’.
Editor’s note: We support JJ Walsh’s efforts! For more information take a look at these links.