Story by Madelaine Khosti, OMS I
Over the years, I have organized many trash cleanups in my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, but when I first thought to do a community cleanup in Ivins, Utah, I could not find a single piece of trash. I contacted Mayor Chris Hart to find some neglected corner of the city, but he did not know of any either. I wondered how they kept it so tidy. Then, I remembered one of my first weekends in Ivins. I had seen a sweet, elderly couple in reflective vests walking along Snow Canyon Parkway, picking up trash.
Prior to moving to Ivins, I cannot say that I have ever lived in a community that took it upon themselves to care for their surroundings. It was always: “Well, it’s not my trash.” Though Ivins itself was free of trash, when I turned the corner onto Old Highway 91, at the very edge of the city, it was not surprising to see great quantities of trash lining the street. In an instant, I was not in Kansas anymore, but back in the reality that people can not be bothered to clean up after themselves. For some, it was easier to chuck a food wrapper or plastic bottle out the window and to make it someone else’s problem.
Most reading this are probably thinking: “Well, this doesn’t apply to me because I dispose of my trash in the proper receptacle and, heck, I even recycle.” But the issue is still unavoidable. Much of our plastic “recycling” ends up in small coastal towns or drifting ashore island communities that have no means of recycling it, and, in the end, it pollutes their home. Even recycling becomes someone else’s problem.
To some, this trash dilemma seems far away, unrelatable, and hopeless. The news is constantly flashing articles about the severity of our trash dilemma or takes the other extreme by stating we do not need to change because all of this – the trash on the side of the street that makes its way to the ocean to slowly wash ashore – is all a liberal hoax. Even for those who do believe in the trash pollution component of this dilemma, it may feel as if all the changes and efforts to fix it are so miniscule that it may just be more trouble than it is worth.
But this is where community comes in! It may not be your trash, but it is your home, your community, and your planet.
As I looked out my window at the plastic water bottles, Styrofoam, scrap metal and miscellaneous trash lining the highway, I remembered that Ivins was the community that took us in from all over the country so that we could study medicine. It has given us a stunning backdrop, a peaceful environment, and a unified neighborhood. The least I could do was give back even an hour of my time.
My peers in the Sustainability Committee, along with members from the Student Government Association, did not disappoint when I approached them with the idea of organizing a clean-up along Old Highway 91. In the Fall of 2019, we gloved up and cleaned a solid one-mile stretch of the highway, collecting over 200 pounds of trash. Doing this with a group of passionate and selfless people reminded me that change is possible, even if it is daunting!
As we grow into the physicians we have all dreamed of becoming, we must remember that helping others is more than medicine. As Mayor Hart said, “Simple acts of service make a big difference in a community. That will always be the case where you eventually choose to live and practice medicine. I hope the spirit of contributing [to your community] never leaves any of you. You are, and hopefully will always be, the difference makers.”