My Statement to the Medical World: Dr. Plastic Picker Your Local Litter-Picking Pediatrician
October 1, 2020
Plogging is jogging while picking up trash. Plalking is walking while litter picking. Plurfing is gathering plastic while surfing. #fillabag is when you find a bag and you fill it with trash. There is an entire lexicon and culture within the Instagram trash collecting world. You can clean the environment while jogging, walking, paddle-boarding, kayaking or surfing. You can make the trash you find into art and be an artivist. You can knit with discarded fishing lines into a scarf like @grannyplastic. You can spend hours picking up litter or just 2 minutes like #2minbeachcleanup. You can even be an awesome dog in the Netherlands like Bob The Plog Dog. The only rule is that you have to show some of the litter you pick and care about the environment. I am Dr. Plastic Picker, this community’s unofficial litter-picking pediatrician. I am a Harvard-educated pediatrician and Assistant Chief of Pediatrics at Kaiser San Diego. I am Co-Chair of AAP-CA3 San Diego Climate Change and Health Committee which is currently the largest AAP committee chapter in the country. But I’d rather be known as Dr. Plastic Picker.
My journey to environmental activism started with physician burnout. I hit a wall about a year ago. I simply broke. This was about the time the youth climate activists were striking in the millions. I decided to head to the beach to get exercise, pick up trash and symbolically help the youth climate activists. Then something happened during those walks. Exercise, picking up plastic, looking at the debris of our modern existence in a semi-meditative state in the early mornings, I started feeling better. Performing good deeds is a healing process. With every piece of trash I’ve picked up has helped me put the pieces of my life back together. I’ve been doing these almost daily walks for about a year. I’m almost at bag #350! I am a general pediatrician who sees and treats patients. I am well regarded in my organization. But I don’t get that sense of benevolence at work because I get paid. When I pick up plastic, it’s completely voluntary. It’s empowering. It’s addictive. It’s my super-power.
This sense of agency I experienced through picking up litter and the stark realization I had on the beach that the earth needed some help, led me to create my semi-anonymous super-hero avatar. Dr. Plastic Picker is a personal “plastic-picking blog,” an Instagram account and a Facebook page. Then I was at the 2019 AAP New Orleans Conference and attended a plenary lecture on climate change. This led me to Lori Byron, our leader for the AAP National Climate Change and Health Committee.
Lori, who I self designated one of my environmental mentors, asked me to write about how I have social media space as a climate activist. I started first off as a litter picker on Instagram and blogging for fun. My blog is non-monetized. I just write about my life. I blog almost daily and I oddly have an insane amount of internet and Instagram traffic. In fact I’ve been offered money for my blog. I also blog about physician personal finance. But I’m financially indepedent so declined. In fact, I coined a new term Financial Independence to Save the Earth (FISE)- which I’m trying to make a thing (you know add to the growing litter-picking lexicon!) I think I’m popular because I write about weird things like living with my mother-in-law, Star Trek (Vulcans are Vegan) and my sometimes haphazard adventures in imperfect vegan cooking and raising our two kids. Our kids are my best advertisement for living a moral and environmentally conscientious life. Oh and there are the blogposts about my husband who is Mr. Plastic Picker, who is also a doctor and a Harvard educated literature major who coined my name Dr. Plastic Picker. But on my blog he is the Mister and I am the Doctor.
When I decided to go all in to save the earth, I was completely serious. I bring everything to my environmental work. I bring my managerial skills, as I actually have a full time job helping manage over 90 pediatricians and a multi-million dollar budget. I bring my decade of experience as a premedical advisor at Harvard. I bring my writing, my public speaking and my happy personality. I put my money where my mouth is. Our family strategically donates money to environmental causes rather than mindless consumption. I detail it on my blog, remember I coined the term FISE. Thus far we’ve saved 7,248 acres of Rainforest and planted or preserved 220,854 trees. But most importantly I brought along my community. The largest AAP Climate Change and Health Chapter Committee in the country are my friends at work. San Diego Pediatricians for Clean Air who helped push the hiring of Environmental Justice Staff at the San Diego Air Pollution Control Board are the same group of friends. We have four premedical interns who volunteer and spear-head amazing climate change and health projects, are all former patients or friends of friends. Remember I was a former Harvard premedical advisor. Now I do it for free for students I like who are helping me help the earth. We have a Children’s Arts Council creating a Youth Arts Exhibition on climate change. These are the children in our practice and others that have found us along the way.
When I think of all that we’ve been able to accomplish in San Diego in such a short time it has been heart-warming. Dr. Plastic Picker is just me. I’m your local litter-picking pediatrician who cleans the same stretch of beach most mornings. I’m no longer burned out. I figured nature healed me, and it’s my turn to help her out. I really care about everyone. I really care about the ocean and plastic pollution, as the #oceansareourlungs. Sometimes adults don’t really get me and I’ve been mocked online and in person, but the kids – they totally get me. Their eyes light up when I show them my trash art. They join me on my beach cleanings and I have special dinosaur metal grabbers for them. And they tell me about all the ways they are trying the save the earth. I was really scared about a year ago. I was scared about my health due to physician burnout and scared for the earth. But at some point I decided to not be scared anymore and to take care of myself , my community and the planet. Someone once said the best antidote to despair is action. And Dr. Plastic Picker decided to take action! I decided to pick up a piece of trash and then decided to go all in to fight climate change. My other super power is I carry a metal trash grabber everywhere I go. If anyone threatens you, me, the earth or tries to mock us again – remember I have a metal grabber! LOL Signing off your local litter picking pediatrician and Co-Chair of AAP-CA3 San Diego Climate Change and Health Committee.
If you are looking for some free entertainment, stop by my blog at https://www.drplasticpicker.com or follow me on Instagram @drplasticpicker – I’ll follow back and maybe we can do a beach cleanup together. For reals.