Birds head south, plastic heads north

It’s that time of year again. December in the Northeast means you can see the birds flying south. That is, you can see them if you’re not distracted by all the plastic hanging in the trees.

The leaves are now gone from the trees leaving an unobstructed view of what has replaced them. Plastic. Tons of it. And since its nobody is responsible for getting rid of it, it accumulates year to year.  It’s something you tend not to notice if you’re speeding by in your car. In the summer, if you’re out for a walk, you don’t notice it much because of the leaves.

It’s one of those things you don’t notice until someone draws your attention to it, and then you can’t stop noticing. This time of year, if you take a walk on the bike path next to the Charles River, you can see it in full bloom.





There’s plenty of plastic along the banks of the river as well, but each year there are big volunteer efforts to clean up all the trash there, and they do a great job. The trees are a different problem, though. If you look carefully at the picture at the top of the Charles River Watershed site in that last link, you can see some tree plastic that will persist after the banks are clean.

Part of the problem is the cost of getting a single piece of plastic out of a single tree. Part of the problem is that many trees are in some weird no-man’s land of jurisdictional ambiguity. Who’s responsible for the trees between Storrow Drive and the Mass Pike? City of Boston? City of Cambridge? The Turnpike Authority? The DCR? And which of these has the budget they’d need (and the will to prioritize this) to start addressing the problem?

But most of the problem is the sheer volume of plastic that has been produced over the years. It doesn’t go anywhere once it is created. The wind takes it from place to place until the trees give it a permanent home.

Some progressive towns have now passed laws against the certain kinds of plastic, but the wind doesn’t pay attention to town borders, and the scale of the problem defies local control.

In the end, the visual pollution of the tree plastic is a minor annoyance, an insignificant whiff of the overall disaster here. Try doing a google image search of “wildlife plastic” if you really want to make yourself sick.




2 thoughts on “Birds head south, plastic heads north”

  1. It’s amazing how fast plastic bags accumulate for just the two of us. We recycle glass, metal, paper, plastic #1 and #2 (jars, containers, etc.), cardboard and plastic bags. It doesn’t take long for a huge bag of plastic bags to fill up, which we then return to a local supermarket that accepts them for recycling. The other thing that piles up is cardboard. It boggles then mind to think how much landfill space would be used up by cardboard alone if nobody recycled.


  2. Interesting and observant. I thought you were going to speak of snowbirds going south and plastic trump something or other heading north. There is a scene in American beauty where a floating plastic bag is seen as something of beauty



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