This is a call to arms, and to hands: my challenge to you when you shop this week, this month or this year. Tell the clerk you’ll pass on that bag, instead tuck your purchases into your pockets or purse. Bring your own sack and use it. You bolder folks, ask the managers if they’d switch to biodegradable or sell reusable bags. Will you join Green Prophet in this micro-cause?
Plastic trash is everywhere. It’s hard to take a photo where a bag isn’t perched in a tree, nesting in a wall or flying in a breeze. I’ve heard them called “the national bird of Jordan”. Swimming in Aqaba, I had to slap away submerged plastic, but a story coming out of Oman makes me want to slap something else. And hard.
About a 3-hour drive out of Muscat on Oman’s Selma Plateau, a modest crack in the earth draws spelunkers, and trash, and most recently, trash-collecting spelunkers. Majlis Al Jinn is one of the world’s largest underground caves. This single-chamber cavern measures 200 meters by 300 meters by 120 meters high: large enough to fit the Great Pyramid or host a Super Bowl.
Cavern access is through a 2 meter-wide crack that’s not too discerning about what it lets in. Plastic bags carpet the cave floor, blown in across miles of remote flatland. Is nowhere safe?
Omani officials invited recreational cavers from Dubai to clean the place. Middle East Caving Expeditionary Team is attuned to UAE geology. The mostly-ex-pat club of specialist cavers had already explored Majlis, but their garbage removal mission required special planning. In one day, seventeen adventurers combined public service with sport and hauled 80 kilos of mostly plastic garbage out of the cave.
“There was a bit of a novelty with this mission because it had a purpose,” said 35 year old Will Hardie. “It was challenging. We had to figure out how to haul the bags past the rocky bits so they wouldn’t rip open and fall back down.”
Suspended by ropes, the team dropped 20 meters before reaching the open chamber. It took another 20-minutes to reach bottom. Light beams shine through surface openings, illuminating the void, and the litter. Gavin Cassidy, 31, from Northern Ireland, said he was struck by, “the sheer height and the vast space of it.” On his first Majlis visit he focused on his safe descent. This time he took a different view, “I wanted to open my mind and take it in. See how huge this was, and how small people were.”
An apt metaphor for the enormity of our pollution problem.
There were old bones from goats who grazed too near the edge. More sinister were the building materials. Corrugated metals too hefty to be airborne indicate Majlis is actively used as a dump. The team picked up plastic bottles, bags, and broken glass. They lowered in large tarpaulins, loaded on the rubbish and hoisted the dirty payload up to the surface.
The organization has another clean-up planned for March they tell Green Prophet.
Reuseablebags.com estimates the world uses 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags every year.
Years in Ireland skewed my plastic sensibility. There, free-issue bags are banned. Shopkeepers hand out paper (cruel joke in a rainsoaked nation) or sell you plastic. People adapt, use recyclable sacks. It’s easy. Some plastic littered my village shoreline, but without government controls and strong public support it’d be far uglier.
People everywhere are working to ban plastic throwaways. My daughter’s Amman school requires the children to collect garbage on every class trip to trashy beauties like Ajloun Castle, the Citadel and Jerash. Kids compete to see who bags the heaviest haul, even wiseguy 8th graders take the action seriously. It comes down to individual commitment. I do a mini-collection every time I run. I try to reuse the bags, at least get them to the single recycling drop in town.
You-tube is loaded with fabulous individual examples, which are exponentially powerful as their messages are so easily shared. Check out this musical appeal:
So what do you say? For one week – go bagless. Please try. Start today to change our world. Then come back and tell Green Prophet how it went. Then try for one month, one year…
Image via katerha