Nineteen cigarette butts, three plastic straws, a Snickers wrapper, two flyers, a receipt, two paper towels, a styrofoam peanut, two matches and chopsticks. These are the various ingredients of Megan Gnekow’s daily Instagram photos.
Gnekow, a coordinator for residential education (CRE) at Porter College, is bringing attention to environmental carelessness in a unique way.
“I started taking the photos in April 2013, the morning after the [April 20] event on campus,” Gnekow said. “I go for a walk every morning and there was always litter but it was particularly bad the day after [April 20]. I was really sad, disappointed and annoyed by that, so I started picking up the trash I saw.”
Gnekow’s Instagram photos are composed of the trash she finds on campus. She posts the photos under the name “missionwishbone.”
Shortly after posting the initial picture on Instagram, Gnekow was told about the Litterati project — an online organization compiling images with the hashtag “Litterati.” The photos are uploaded to a “Digital Landfill” collecting data on where people find litter and what they are finding.
Gnekow’s constant attention to campus trash is spurred from her deep love of the land. Her daily Litterati photos are always paired with a photo of the sun rising on her hometown, a reminder of the beauty the land possesses in balance with the carelessness hindering it.
“Students, faculty, staff, families and members of the public come here because this is a beautiful place with an outstanding academic reputation,” Gnekow said. “Each of us who has the privilege to be here has a responsibility to maintain the beauty of this campus for as long as we can.”
Bradley Angell, the administrative analyst in the grounds and services department of UC Santa Cruz’s physical plant, also noticed the unique responsibility inspired by the campus.
“UCSC’s culture is very accommodating to those who wish to take their environmental activism to what many would consider the extreme,” Angell said. “This is why I moved here. If students participate in and bolster the existing momentum of UCSC’s sustainability planning, they will inherently adopt a more environmentally aware lifestyle.”
UCSC sustainability director Lacey Raak advised community members to develop a more attentive relationship with their surroundings.
“Strive to stay connected to what is outside while you are inside,” Raak said. “When you walk into a building you still have an impact, perhaps a much greater impact on the environment. When you turn on a light, dispose of your waste, turn on the faucet or turn up the heat, there is an impact on your surroundings, but we are all very disconnected from the impact.”
Despite UCSC’s environmentally sound reputation, Raak sees potential for growth.
“Santa Cruz has long been admired for the student engagement and activism related to sustainability,” Raak said. “We have also made great progress with sustainable food, however we are currently not on target to meet our [greenhouse gas] emissions reduction goals.”
In order to grow as a community and understand one’s impact, Angell emphasized the importance of unified campus awareness.
“As the grounds services staff continues to improve our operational methods of campus stewardship,” Angell said, “it is important to our success that the campus community continue to be understanding, willing and compliant in adopting impressive sustainability protocols.”
The next step is extending proactive environmental behavior beyond one’s immediate environment. For Angell, global education and expansive understanding of sustainability practices is key.
“Perhaps the most important thing local residents can do to take care of the greater global environment is to communicate the importance of such practices outside [Santa Cruz], to places like Bakersfield, Texas or even Watsonville,” Angell said.
In true Litterati spirit, Porter CRE Megan Gnekow continuously makes observations about the state of the campus.
“I know where people go to hide their smoking habits,” Gneknow said. “I see more condoms and beer bottle caps after a long weekend. Around finals and midterms, there are way more cigarette butts [and] during the summer, there’s almost no trash at all, at least away from where summer school is located.”
As for spreading awareness via Instagram, Gnekow is optimistic.
“I would love it if there was a whole UCSC and Santa Cruz contingent on Litterati,” Gnekow said. “Maybe there would be a day I went for a walk and there would not be one single piece of trash.”