Ukraine is a very beautiful country rich in natural splendor and open spaces. That’s why it’s so disheartening to see it spoiled by trash and pollution. Just about everywhere you go around where we live, you see trash littering the ground. The worst places seem to be the most beautiful and the most popular areas to picnic. Plastic bottles, plastic wrappers and bags, and broken glass are scattered everywhere. The river is clogged with floating debris that washes up on its banks as far as you can see. You can try and ignore it and clear a spot to have a picnic, but you can’t really get away from it.
Every time I see a beautiful spot that has been spoiled by people just throwing their trash on the ground or in the river, I’m reminded of the “Crying Indian” in the 1971 public service announcements. Woodsy Owl also comes to mind. I wonder if places in the United States once looked like they do here.
The answer to most of the problem is just getting people to care. Sadly, most people don’t. The catch phrase, “People start pollution. People can stop it.”, couldn’t be more true here. I regularly see people drop wrappers as they open something or just toss their trash within feet of an empty trash can.
Some people do care, but not nearly enough. I was sitting next to a playground that was littered with trash one morning. An old man started picking up the trash and putting it in a pile outside of the playground. I started to help him and together we at least put a dent in the problem. As we were finishing, a woman came up and told us to stop. She said it was a waste of time because there would just be more trash the next day. The man just replied that trash was no good and kept working. The woman again told me to stop and that it didn’t matter because it wouldn’t make a difference. I told her that it made a difference to the man I was helping and I kept gathering up the trash. She told me I should stop and go wash my hands. I ignored her.
There is also the idea that it’s someone else’s problem. One day we decided to go out as a family and cleanup the trash around the playground where we live. A few of the neighborhood kids even helped us, but some neighbors of ours called us over to the bench they were sitting. They wanted to know why we were picking up trash. We said we just wanted to keep the area where we live clean and to teach the kids not to litter. They told us that we should stop because there are people that get paid to pick up the trash. We tried to explain that those people only come once a week and don’t do a good job. The general thinking is, “So what if trash litters the ground? Eventually someone who gets paid will come along and pick up most of it. Why bother?”
Unfortunately, we live at the edge of the city where the preferred method of waste disposal is burning, plastic and all. This brings up yet another issue, air quality. Evening seems to be the magical time when everyone comes out to burn their trash. The smoke usually rises to about just above the roof tops and seems to spread out under an invisible glass ceiling. The first time I saw this effect, I thought it was fog. Some days are so bad that the weather report actually calls for “smoke”. For people like me and Joshua who have allergies, this can be a problem. (I can’t imagine trying to live here with asthma.) Joshua is currently suffering from an ear infection brought on by all the drainage he has been having. The cure is almost worse than the ear infection. Joshua has to endure a week of taking drops, tablets, and a twice a day antibiotic injection that the pharmaceutical company describes as “unusually painful”.
Joshua's treatment plan
I know that people here are concerned about having a factory that belches out black smoke in their backyard and almost everyone has concerns about radiation, but at what point do people start to care on an individual level? What motivates a person not to dump their trash where families picnic and come to enjoy the natural beauty of Ukraine?