On Nov. 17, a group of Portland students braved the rain and cold to pick up trash along the Sellwood beaches and hiking trails. The group covered a two-mile radius, and the trash they collected filled the back of a truck.
The idea for the cleanup began with Students Engage in Eco Defense (SEED) member Mia Babasyan ’22, who interns with Environment Oregon. Environment Oregon is a citizen-based environmental advocacy group that works to push the Oregon legislature to adopt more eco-friendly policies. Babasyan has been interning with the organization since September.
“The project I’m working on is called ‘Wildlife Over Waste,’” Babasyan said. “It’s basically addressing the plastic pollution problem in the state, because Oregon still does not have a ban on styrofoam and other single-use plastics. So, my project is to try and connect college students with these environmental initiatives that are happening.”
Wildlife Over Waste is a nationwide campaign to ban single-use styrofoam and plastic products due to their negative impact on animals and ecosystems. According to the Environment Oregon website, “Scientists have found plastic fragments in literally hundreds of species, including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species, and 43% of all marine mammal species.”
Babasyan went to SEED originally to promote the cleanup, and joined the group as a result.
“SEED gathers the most environmentally engaged students on campus,” Babasyan said. “It was just the perfect place for me to go to and say, ‘Hey, this is my project, I need people to come and support.’ They were so open and they were so willing to come, and that’s been amazing.”
In total, over ten students attended the event, many of whom are members of SEED. The group began collecting trash on the beaches and then moved on to cleaning up nearby hiking trails. All of the garbage they collected was given to the project manager of Sellwood and Oaks Park to be sorted for proper disposal.
Annika Schwietz ’22 attended the river cleanup and commented on the kinds of trash the group found.
“As I was picking up trash along the beach, I saw a lot of styrofoam and microplastic,” Schwietz said. “I think that it’s really great that everyone is coming out here and picking up everything, no matter how small.”
SEED Member Jack Waite ’23 also attended the event and hopes to see more cleanups in the future.
“The president (of SEED), Lauren (Walker ’20), was mentioning to me today that we might want to do this once a month,” Waite said. “I think that would be a great idea, and I would love to have that be a regular thing.”
Babasyan sees the cleanup as symbolic of a much larger fight against environmental degradation.
“I think everyone who came out felt like they played a part in an event that is much more than just picking up bits of styrofoam,” Babasyan said. “It’s representing our school, that we care about the prevention of single-use plastics, and we want to be active students however we can do so.”