Cycling and Recycling: Taking Environmentalism on the Road

GREG TASKER

August 11, 1991|By GREG TASKER

One can't help but think about the environment on a bicycle. No other mode of transportation -- besides one's feet, perhaps -- provides man with such intimate glimpses of nature.

You not only see the passing landscape, but you hear the rush of animals moving away from the brush along the road, and you smell the sweet fragrance of flowers and ripening fruit.

There may be no better way to let the senses experience the state's environment than by participating in the annual Cycle Across Maryland tour, which showcases a different part of the state each year. This summer's tour wrapped the Chesapeake Bay, providing cyclists with a chance to discover the bay's waterways, wildlife and natural beauty.

Riding across Maryland on an environmentally friendly bicycle, though, I found that the Free State is not free of litter.

I should have, of course, expected to see some litter, but it was one of the last things on my mind as we pedaled out of Solomons, Calvert County, on the first day of the tour.

Overcast skies threatened and then poured rain, making many of the 1,078 cyclists concentrate on finishing the day's 65-mile route to Annapolis. Not unlike the others, I was looking forward to the much-talked-about hospitality awaiting cyclists at camp.

But along the way to here and there, I found plenty of trash -- something I expected to be less bountiful along the state's highways and back roads in these days of green-mindedness and conservation.

It wasn't. The trail of trash was pretty much the same whether we were riding along traffic in Anne Arundel and Baltimore

counties to our second overnight stop in Essex, or climbing the hills of Harford and Cecil counties to North East, our third camp site.

Traveling 55 to 60 miles a day from point A to point B, there was plenty of time to steal glances at the road's shoulder. Broken glass, aluminum cans, fast-food wrappers, plastic, paper bags and disposable diapers were everywhere. Sometimes, without choice, we rode through glass and other debris, causing a parade of flats.

We did find respite from traffic and throwaways on at least one occasion during a 12 1/2 -mile trek along the Baltimore and Annapolis bike trail. The trees lining the path painted an almost pristine setting. It's a concept that should be copied in other counties.

Despite the litter, it was clear that community groups and in some cases, county or city governments, had made some strides in recycling. We saw plenty of recycling bins, sometimes colorful and spaceship-like ones, and recycling containers, emptied at curbsides, along the 360-mile route, which included stops in Worton, Centreville and Easton, the finishing point.

But no sooner would we pass these bins than we would camp at schools and colleges, where we were served dinners on plastic, disposable plates. We ate with disposable silverware and drank from foam cups. At one overnight stop, we carried dinner on throwaway trays.

Thirsty and sun-drenched, we'd stop at mom-and-pop stores and 7-Elevens looking for Gatorade or fruit juices, drink them and find only a trash bag to dump the glass or cans. There were no recycling bins.

I can be environmentally conscious at home and in the office -- avoiding disposable items, recycling newspapers and white paper and carrying my ceramic mug to the coffee shop -- but it's not easy to practice environmentalism on the road. It should be.

It should no longer be just environmental-minded citizens pushing for recycling. Their message isn't reaching everyone. You don't need to be a on bicycle to see that.

Our northern neighbor, Pennsylvania, mandates recycling in its populated areas. Maryland can do the the same. Some states require deposits on cans and bottles. If Maryland did that, we wouldn't see them along our roads anymore.

I haven't heard one good reason against mandatory recycling or deposits on cans and bottles. Not from the governor. Not from the legislature. Not from county government. Not from industry. And not from my neighbors.

Traversing Maryland on this bicycle tour only seemed to underscore the need for greater environmentalism in what is a richly scenic state.

Greg Tasker is a reporter for The Carroll County Sun.

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