I Despise Litter: That’s Why

Litter irks me, and so that’s why I pick it up.  It’s that simple.  People have a choice, they can either complain about it and do nothing or they can decide to do something about it: they can pick it up.  For me, it’ll be the latter.  I’m not going to wait for someone else to take care of this problem.

A cursory look at what lies by the roadside will tell you that most litter comes right out of the car window: it’s a collage of convenience foods, cigarette butts, beer and soda cans, fast food packaging and the like.  Change the diaper, throw it out the window.  Down that cold beer, throw it out the window.  Done with those chips?, out the window.  Can’t have the interior of the car dirty or smelling like lunch I guess. It’s so obnoxious.  So selfish.  Here’s a photo from day one: isn’t this gross?

Litter Collage

Add to the intentionally-thrown variety of trash the windy-day variety: the litter from overturned trash bins and the stuff that flies off trucks.  Then there are the pole signs, the political lawn signs, the discarded appliances, the furniture. Don’t forget the parts of vehicles from accidents and construction debris dumped in the dead of night, and the dreaded hypodermic needles and condoms.  Left for the volunteers to pick up.

Concrete Blocks, dumped by the roadside in a local wildlife preserve
Concrete Blocks, dumped by the roadside in a local wildlife preserve: lovely

 Litter is an ethnographic picture of who we are as a culture, at the point of the least denominator.  Too many people are slobs.  And it’s everywhere.  Everywhere. 

What can the government do about it?  Not enough.  The police, for one, have their priorities and littering isn’t among them. It’s not on the radar and likely never will be.  They have bigger fish to fry. Aside from the odd incident where some contractor gets nabbed while dumping debris from a job, you can pretty much forget about the enforcement component of this issue.  Littering laws, like a lot of low level rules, are self-enforcing.  Few people are caught, fewer cited: Littering isn’t getting solved, not by the government.

Of course, street sweepers make the rounds at intervals and do a fair job of snagging litter, but only in the gutters.  Community beautification isn’t really their purpose, keeping the storm drains from silting up is their real purpose.  Public works departments dredge out the storm basins from time to time if they are diligent, but can’t be expected to prevent the casual tossing of Wendy’s bags.     

So I pick it up – me, and a lot of other people who want their communities to be clean and pleasant places.   How did I get involved in this?  I got my start with community cleanups and eventually made the transition to do-it-yourself litter picker.  It’s not much of a transition really, because once you start doing your part with the organized cleanups you pretty quickly either quit or become a zealot.  Not everyone enjoys picking up soggy trash on a Saturday morning. But for some, it becomes an addiction. You despised the litter in the first place or you likely wouldn’t have gotten involved, and then you find out that you actually like doing it.  So, spearing candy wrappers and bagging up empty beer cans as you’re walking the dog is an almost natural next-step.  The organized cleanups are opportunities to refresh and renew the passion and the comradery.

I doubt that too many people would, however, decide to blog their litter picking efforts.  You have to be a little nuts is what occurs to me – but what the heck.  Guilty as charged if civic activism is a form of nuttiness.  I’ve never been one to do something in half measures.  If by chronicling my dog-walking litter-picking adventures I can draw some attention to the issue then I’m happy.  If I can inspire people to volunteer or to begin picking up trash that would be great.  If I can inform the public debate about this problem in any way, then great.  At the minimum, I’m happy if I can make a difference in my neighborhood, and I do.

So in the interest of having some (maybe) compelling facts to throw out (pun intended) at dinner parties or, more likely, at meetings with other volunteers, I’m keeping track of what I collect.  I have downloaded some ‘citizen scientist’ data forms from the Nature Conservancy (the same ones that we fill out during the semi-annual International Coastal Cleanup, and am filling them out after each time I venture into the streets with my litter pickup stick.  They’re downloadable (http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/international-coastal-cleanup/data-form.pdf) in case anyone wants to do a coastal cleanup.  Maybe I’ll contact the Ocean Conservancy to see if they want my data.   All of the trash that I pick and photograph and record on the data sheets will come from locations that are within walking distance of my home.

I’ve actually invested some money in this project.  But not much.  My tools will include a constant supply of reused grocery store bags (at least until those bags are banned by the legislature which I expect will happen soon, but more on that later), an Olympus tg-850 digital camera, a pair of old leather gloves, a wallboard square for scale and a brand new hardware store bought pickup-stick that cost me 22 bucks.  It’s a nice one, a Grip’n Grab made in the United Kingdom by Ettore (http://www.ettore.com/professionals/products/grip-%E2%80%99n-grab/)  I’ll be reviewing this product by the by.  I got it from the local Hardware here in Islip (http://ww3.truevalue.com/isliptruevalue/Home.aspx) where you can get anything at all.

The tool of choice, a Grip’n Grab:

Every day that I pick up trash, and it won’t be every day (I mean, really), will involve data collection and a photo of the proceeds.  Like this one:

Still Life: Litter

Not sexy, I know.  It is trash after all.

I’ll keep a record of the names of source vendors (franchises and the like), some shame can come out of that, as well as the location cleaned and a completed data sheet.  I expect to write about the various aspects of this admittedly quirky project, such as unusual items found, equipment used, a tally of those bottles and cans returns (proceeds to be donated), philosophical observations about trash and any other spinoff ideas that come to mind.  It’ll be interesting, at least to me.  If anyone else finds it worth reading, like I said before, great.

Into the litter.


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