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Celebrate Earth Day Across the East End

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By Claire Walla

This coming Saturday, Christine Fetton will spend most of her waking hours at the Southampton Town transfer station in North Sea, doing what most people probably consider a most undesirable activity: monitoring trash.

As the director of waste management for Southampton Town, monitoring trash at the town’s transfer station, where she keeps an office, is a relatively routine role for Fetton. However, this Saturday is Earth Day, which means Southampton Town will be holding its annual Great East End Clean-Up (which runs through Sunday).

This time last year, Fetton said the town collected a grand total of 56 tons of garbage.

“I think we’re going to be a little busier this weekend than we are during normal weeks,” she said with a grin.

As in years past, the Clean Up will bring hundreds of East End residents to beaches and parks throughout Southampton Town for a conscientious environmental cleanse in the name of Earth Day, the one day out of the year when communities around the world make an effort to beautify their immediate surroundings.

In addition to the Great East End Clean Up, residents here will also be able to take part in a smattering of other nature-oriented events. The South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center (on the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike) will host a cleanup of its own at Sagg Main Beach from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 21, followed by an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The open house will not only include a Live Raptor and Animal Show at 1 p.m., but also a walking tour that requires nothing but your eyes and a working cell phone.

“You dial a number on your cell phone and it goes to a recording with information about that stop [on the nature walk],” said Nature Educator Lindsay Rohrbach.

Out in Montauk, Earth Day will be widely celebrated on Earth Day’s official date: Sunday, April 22. From 9 a.m. to noon, people will be invited to clean up areas around Edgemere Street (garbage bags will be available at the movie theater), and from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. kids will be able to decorate reusable grocery bags at the Montauk Playhouse.

The emphasis on reusable bags is also a big part of this year’s town-sponsored events in Southampton. During the Great East End Clean Up, trash collectors will be asked to separate single-use plastic bags from the mix. According to Fetton, this accumulation of plastic will be used as data.

“This way we can work to establish a baseline of usage, which we can compare to next year’s numbers,” Fetton explained.

While the town voted against instituting an all-out plastic bag ban (like the one now in place in Southampton Village) earlier this year, it has embarked on an educational campaign, urging residents to limit their dependence on plastic.

This entire effort, called Greener Southampton: The Solution is in the Bag, will be kicked-off this Saturday, as well. Councilwoman Christine Preston Scalera and Councilman Chris Nuzzi, in addition to the town’s Sustainability Coordinator Liz Plouff will be at the King Kullen Supermarket on Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton from noon to 2 p.m. to discuss the environmental hazards of plastic bags. (Those shopping within that time frame who spend $10 or more at the store will receive a free reusable bag.)

Taking a momentary break from the plastics discussion, Plouff will also talk about the town’s Green Homes initiative, through which homeowners in the town of Southampton can request free audits on their home’s energy efficiency. She will also mention the town’s anti-idling campaign.

In the end, Fetton said there may only be one organized town-wide cleanup in Southampton, but she hopes this year’s educational efforts will have long-lasting effects.

“The key is continuing education,” she said.

While plastic bags may take center stage this year, Fetton said these educational efforts, which have branched out to civic associations and other community groups, try to incorporate all aspects of sustainability, from limiting the use of plastics to diminishing the number of idling vehicles.

“All of these issues mesh very well because they have a ripple effect for one another, and when you live more sustainably you reduce the amount of pollutants in the environment,” Fetton continued. “We have to get away from the mindset that Earth Day is just one weekend out of the year.”

Earthly Love

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On April 22, 1970, the world experienced its first Earth Day. Initially an event with nearly 20 million participants in the U.S., Earth Day has grown to include an estimated 1 billion participants from countries all around the world.

“People of all nationalities and backgrounds will voice their appreciation for the planet and demand its protection,” a message on the official Earth Day website proclaims. “Together we will stand united for a sustainable future and call upon individuals, organizations and governments to do their part.”

When you think about it, a lot has changed since the 1970s — and for the better. Cars and appliances run far more efficiently than they did a few decades ago, using far less fossil fuel and electricity. Meanwhile, the notoriously polluted byways and waterways of the New York metro area (who among us from that unenlightened era can soon forget the stench of the Meadowlands from the New Jersey Turnpike on a hot summer’s day?) have been largely reclaimed, cleaned up and are once again full of wildlife that can thrive there without fear of death and disease from toxic waste.

Beyond the urban landscape, there’s much to celebrate on the East End on this Earth Day as well. For one, let’s be thankful for the preservation efforts that, since the 1970s, have maintained the rural areas we still have in the face of rampant development pressures (anyone remember the proposed Montauk Highway bypass that would have cut through Sag Harbor’s southern reaches?)

But alas, there’s always garbage to be found on the streets and beaches of our fair towns and villages. So here on the East End, there are Earth Day celebrations aplenty and many of them come with an opportunity to do a little community service along the way. From the Great East End Clean-Up — for which Southampton Town residents will comb through over 70 locations with pokers and trash bags in hand — to local beach cleanups and environmentally friendly activities put on by organizations like the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center (SoFo) and Concerned Citizens of Montauk (CCOM), there is plenty to choose from.

Earth Day has long been popular and we expect a good number of people on the East End to show up this weekend and do their part for the environment — even if it’s simply taking that extra few moments to bend down and pick up a piece of litter on our morning walks. Every little bit helps.

The public’s awareness of environmental issues on April 22 is admirable and important. However, there are 364 other days in the year that are not given Earth Day distinction. What happens then?

This Earth Day weekend, take a mental snapshot of the efforts you see around you to protect the environment, and work to make those practices a more regular part of your daily routine. We’re not saying you have to drive to Sagg Main every morning with a poker and a trash bag and comb the beach looking for scattered debris. (We know, we have day jobs, too.)

Rather, take time during the rest of the year to pick up trash when you encounter it, for example. Do your part to eliminate plastic from the waste stream and buy reusable cloth shopping bags to keep in the trunk for when you’re out and about. And don’t leave your car idling when you “just run in to grab something.” Yes, we know it’ll only take a second, but those brief moments still create unwanted emissions.

The point is, Earth Day will inevitably end; but the need to keep our environment clean and healthy will not.

This weekend, don’t pick up trash and debris just because it’s Earth Day; clean up the environment around you because it’s the right thing to do. Because this is where we all live and we don’t want to see it ruined.