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5 Sep 2009 / Julie

i have seen the future, and it’s a mess

photo © brandonwu

last Sunday, a bunch of us went to the VirginFreeFest at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Even though i’ve been living close to the venue for almost half a year, it was the first time i had actually gotten to see a concert there. The festival was awesome (and not just the fact that it was free). there was awesome music in three different tents, roaming performers, great food, free giveaways, prizes, bumper cars, a skate park, and more. Except for some wandering i spent most of the day on a blanket under a tree enjoying the acts on the main stage.

from reading the website before the event i knew that they were promoting green and eco-friendly things, like water fill up stations so you could bring your own bottle to refill all day long, lots of recycling containers, composting, and more:

“Virgin Mobile FreeFest aims to be as clean as we can possibly be! Last year we were able to divert tons of trash away from landfills by introducing composting, recycling, and biodegradable food service items. We also cleaned up our act by running the Festival on B99 biodiesel fuel. This year, we am to do the same thing and more… We are making best efforts to eliminate trash. That’s right, we’re not going to be handing you trash and we hope that you will help us by not bringing any in…  You used it, Now let us help you put it back. Bring us your empty bottles and we’ll recycle them for you, and for the good of the planet.

and yet somehow, as the day went on, you started to notice that the trash cans were empty and the grass was full. plastic beer cups, plates, food, the reusable aluminum Budweiser containers crushed by the weight of passing feet. the sound of plastic being crushed or kicked by people as they walked around. never once did i see someone pick up trash instead of kicking it out of their way. by the end of the night you saw more trash on the ground than grass.

i started to hear the mother of a friend in my head. “don’t,” she says, leaning in to her son who’s cleaning up crumbs on the table at a restaurant. “there are people who do that.” my generation grew up with the assumption is that there are always going to be people who clean up after you. it started with your mother, tireless in picking up your room and clearing the dinner dishes instead of making you do it (this was not my mother, that’s for sure). and then in college you’re tricked by some better-than-thou prick into thinking that by not cleaning up after yourself you’re “creating jobs.” what bullshit. with only slightly more energy than dropping your trash on the ground you could have walked the few yards in any direction to a trash can or recycling bin.

and someone must have started it. people wouldn’t have been so likely to drop their trash where they stood if they hadn’t already seen it on the ground. it’s like the broken window theory saying that as soon as one broken window doesn’t get fixed, the community starts to decline, crime rising. It doesn’t take much for the landslide to happen once people stop caring, but it takes even less to make sure the window gets fixed, ensuring the unspoken rule that “we care about this community. you will keep things clean.” but it only takes one to start things in the other direction and before you even realize it, you’re living in shambles.

it’s like my issue with dishes. sure, i have a dish fairy who does them all now (we split it, i do the laundry) but when i had a place to myself, if i didn’t wash the dish immediately, it would start to pile up and the less i wanted to deal with it. it’s easy when there’s one. it’s harder to get started when there’s 20.

and that’s the way i’d assume all the clean up /break down staff felt when people cleared out of Merriweather that night. we left a little earlier than the last second because we had people who had to travel a few hours to get home, and we had work early in the morning. had i not had work early in the morning, or even though i did, i should have stayed and volunteered to clean up. or maybe smack around a few of the selfish contributors.

trash gets to me normally, i’m the girl you see taking a walk around the neighborhood, picking up the random soda can or month old soggy paper that she sees laying around. but this really bugged me. the concert attendees were significantly skewed to the young teens + my generation folks, with only a few older music lovers and the always-a-hippie hippies. what i saw laying before me was the future of our planet. my brain evoked visions of a planet dead from reckless abundance, resources dried up and trash left everywhere… WALL-E style. if this is how our young people treat the planet, what’s going to happen to it? I thought that it was our generation that was going to “save the world.” but right now it seems like a myth every generation tells themselves. kinda like the “our kids will be different” myth every scared parent-to-be holds on to.

when complaining about all this to the bf, he mentions that “all music festivals might be like this. we don’t know if this is out of the ordinary for them.” but it doesn’t make things better. people are slobs and there is never an excuse for that.

so i will continue to be careful and cognizant of what i acquire, continue to dispose of things properly recycling and reusing as much as possible, and continue to pick up trash when i see it carelessly left on the ground by someone else. and i will continue to remind others of those 3 Rs we were taught as kids that have somehow taken a back burner to life’s ever increasing (unrealistic and imaginary) demand for more “stuff” and “me! me! me!.” Recycle. Reduce. Reuse.

though at the very least, don’t be a slob.

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