Partial to Home: Pick up trash. Tell the world about it.


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Birney Imes



Alabama's Sipsey River is a 145-mile long low-lying, swamp-like stream that begins in Glen Allen near Fayette and runs south until it crosses Highway 82 just east of Gordo. There it veers southwest where it eventually flows into the Tennessee-Tombigbee just south of Vienna. 


Much of the river is pristine. It is lush with cypress, tupelo, pine, red maple and offers habitat for abundant wildlife. There is no evident commercial activity; the only signs of civilization are the occasional deer camp, bridges serving the county roads that crisscross this rural country and the random plastic bottle or styrofoam cooler ensnared in the limbs of fallen trees. 


There are few boat ramps. The bridge crossings provide put-in and take-out options for the paddler willing to fight briers, thick mud and a steep climb to the road. 


Thursday around midday, Ross Whitwam and I, having just paddled the 10.6 miles of river separating bridges on Cotton Bridge and Lewiston roads bobbed and weaved through a gauntlet of muck, briers and a steep concrete embankment. We had gone to get my truck at the put-in, and now we were going to participate in a social media movement that has gone viral. 


Here on this country road in Alabama where a single car or truck passes about every five minutes, we were going to join an Instagram phenomenon known as trash tagging or in Instagramspeak, #trashtag. 


That the movement has taken off should come as no surprise. It's fun; it offers the chance to be part of something larger than you are, something that benefits the planet. As one of the hash tags reads, "There's not a Plan(et) B. Take care." 


Here's how it works. Find a litter-strewn area. Take a picture of the area. Pick up and bag the litter. Take another picture, preferably from the same vantage as the original photo. Post to Instagram. 


When I checked #trashtag on Instagram Friday afternoon there were more than 32,000 posts from around the globe, smiling people having a great time picking up trash, either alone or as a group. Many of the posts are hugely entertaining, some exhibit striking creativity. From Boy Scouts to women in bikinis lounging on litter-strewn beaches. 


Reading the posts is a geography lesson. Trash taggers from Russia, Lebanon, California, Maine, Paraguay, Mexico, Japan, Poland and Germany have gotten in on the fun. See for yourself. Type in to your browser "instagram #trashtag." You don't have to be an Instagram subscriber. 


Ross and I filled three trash bags with Bud Lite and soft-drink cans, assorted plastic bags and worst of all, shredded styrofoam plates. Our small effort took maybe 20 minutes. Afterward Ross climbed on the tailgate of the pickup and took a picture of the clean roadside, our three bags of trash, me and the kayaks. No danger of the shot making Instagram's greatest hits, but there we are with our roadside bounty. 


About a week ago on a nocturnal ramble through town with Val, our squat little dog, I picked up about seven or eight pieces of litter from Leadership Plaza. Too bad I didn't know about #trashtag then. Val would have enjoyed the notoriety.


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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