Trash picked up at a neighborhood clean-up
Trash picked up at a neighborhood clean-up

Earth Day might not be a national holiday (yet), but it feels like one at KEEN.

In honor of our planet’s special day, our office was closed on Friday so employees could give back and volunteer in the community (last year, we worked on trails in Forest Park). Some folks removed invasive species and planted trees in a local park, while others cleaned up trash in downtown Portland, OR, and along a creek that serves as spawning habitat for salmon. All in all, we logged over 450 hours of volunteer time and collected over 1,000 lbs. of litter.

OOO for the Planet

I love workdays full of meetings as much as the next person, but nothing beats walking the walk with trash and recycling bags in our hands and KEEN boots—or socks and sandals—on our feet.

Out by Kelly Creek with friends from SOLVE and Sandy River Watershed Council, the cleanup started with an inspiring quote from Chief Seattle: "The Earth does not belong to [humans], [humans] belong to the Earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. [Humans] did not weave the web of life, [they are] merely a strand in it. Whatever [we] do to the web, [we] do to [ourselves]."

"That’s the part they don’t tell you about cleanups. You think the event is all about how much litter you remove from the environment but, really, it’s so much more powerful."

With every plastic straw, cigarette butt, and food wrapper picked up, I felt more connected to the salmon and other aquatic species living downstream—and more aware of my own consumption choices (time to start carrying my own bamboo utensils). That’s the part they don’t tell you about cleanups. You think the event is all about how much litter you remove from the environment but, really, it’s so much more powerful. Also, conservation-induced camaraderie is the best camaraderie.

Back at KEEN headquarters, we all traded stories about the most unusual piece of litter we found (Spiderman costume) and showed our battle scars from thorny blackberry bushes. Everyone had a smile from ear to ear.

Going Beyond Cleanups

It’s a satisfying feeling to see all the trash we cleaned up that day. But one badass KEEN employee is taking it a step further by trying to eliminate single-use packaging in the first place. Elsa Clements, who heads up the KEEN Green Team, started a petition on, asking Trader Joe’s to reduce plastic packaging.

“The recycling changes last year really made me start looking at all the packaging that can’t be recycled, and analyzing what I buy and how it impacts the environment,” Elsa says. “I feel like there is not enough attention on packaging. Plastic is cheap and convenient, but it takes 450 years to break down something we consume in just a few minutes. We need to go to the source and eliminate plastic packaging.”

What started as one of her goals for the EcoChallenge that KEEN participated in last October went viral and gained media attention. The petition jumped from 500 to 40,000 signatures in the first month and now has over 111,000 signatures. On Dec. 31, 2018, Trader Joe’s committed to cut 1 million pounds of plastic packaging from their stores.

What We Can Do Every Day

Here are some ways we can all cut down our single-use plastic consumption:

• Use stainless steel or reusable silicone straws.
• Opt for reusable wraps or sandwich bags.
• Look into the LOOP reusable packaging program that is launching in pilot cities.
• BYOU (bring your own utensils).
• Choose local produce over products wrapped in plastic.

“We sometimes feel powerless as an individual, but all these little changes add up and really do make a difference,” Elsa says.

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