Henry LaBelle, 20 of Athens, spends much of his time hiking the various nature trails across Athens County. During his travels, LaBelle has noticed a troubling amount of trash and debris strewn about, polluting the natural beauty of the area.
In one singular half-mile trip, LaBelle and his girlfriend filled three entire trash bags with refuse.
“You see one thing, then you see another thing. Then you realize that it goes out to the sides a couple hundred feet,” said LaBelle. “You try to walk straight down the road and just find an endless amount of garbage.”
Some of the items he has collected include used diapers, broken glass, discarded cans and plastic bags. He once even discovered an old point-and-shoot camera while hiking.
As a forager of wild mushrooms who documents his finds on his Instagram page @athenstrashman, the constant presence of trash in these natural spaces concerns LaBelle greatly. He is troubled by the apathy of those who toss the trash as well as the impact it has on the local environment.
“At first, it usually brings up kind of angry feelings and a bit of hopelessness,” said LaBelle. “Usually I get it together and work through the emotional aspect of it.”
As his concerns grew, LaBelle decided to take action.
LaBelle set up a GoFundMe page in order to raise money to support himself as he continues to clean up the area, a cause he hopes to spread and plans to do whether or not money becomes involved.
“I will continue to collect garbage and keep it out of our beautiful land, whether or not I receive any funding,” said LaBelle in his fundraiser’s description. “However, if I do receive funding, I will spend a much greater amount of time doing so, and bringing others along with me.”
For LaBelle, part of the issue is people remaining disconnected from the natural world around them. With peoples busy schedules and intense jobs, it can make it difficult to find time to experience the outdoors. To him, it isn’t a lack of awareness but a lack of committing those awarenesses to your own character.
Another possible solution he considered is increased enforcement of littering laws. This solution has flaws though, according to LaBelle, because the decision not to litter and to care about the environment needs to be an internal one.
The impacts of trash in the environment doesn’t only impact wildlife but humans as well, according to LaBelle.
“Microplastics that get degraded into the natural environment end up finding their way into the bodies of fish and deer and wildlife as well as things like mushrooms and plants,” he said.
According to a piece from The Guardian published in late Dec. 2020, researchers have discovered microplastics in the placentas of pregnant women. Another story from the same publication reported microplastics being discovered on Mount Everest.
The study of microplastics is relatively new, meaning that their full impact is unknown. Scientists are concerned, however, that by ingesting them, humans are becoming exposed to various chemicals present in plastics.
To those who want to help, donations can be made to the GoFundMe or by collecting trash themselves. According to LaBelle, the best and easiest way to help is to simply not litter.
“There’s plenty of things wrong with the world but this is just one thing that is blatantly obvious,” LaBelle said.