‘Clamming’?

Some would call what I do a form of ‘land clamming’, and me a ‘land clammer’, but it’s not and I’m not.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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A land clammer, in the colloquial, is a derogatory term for someone who travels around picking the valuable empties from the recycling cans and from the roadside.  I hate the term, because it insults people who are engaged in productive work.  I think it sneers, so I think that I’ll call them deposit harvesters instead at least until something more appropriate occurs to me.

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What I do, first and foremost, is, of course, pick up and properly dispose of, litter. And in the course of cleaning up my neighborhood I come across empties: beer cans mostly, usually on the weekends, as I have discussed. Much of the time, when I recover the odd empty, it just goes into the nearest trash can.  It’s just not worth the effort (picking up, carrying home, sorting from the rest of the trash, putting in the recycling can, taking to the redemption center, cashing in the chit) for ten cents a can or bottle: but weekends can be lucrative.  Weekends are different.

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Saturday Morning

On the weekends, people throw lots of empty beer cans out the car window. Sometimes people sit in their cars on a back street and knock back a whole case of beer at one time.  Out the window it goes, one at a time or all at once, carton and all.  These people are known as drunk drivers, usually, and as such they are criminals much to be despised. They can’t compare in virtue to the humble and productive deposit harvesters.

On the weekend, I make sure to bring the pick-stick along, and some repurposed bags, and I collect the cans. What must the neighbors think?: land clammer (deposit harvester!).  I’ve never cared.  If it were true, I’d be proud of it.

We used to have visits from one particular deposit harvester, locally.  He pushed a shopping cart down the street in the middle of the night, tossing through everyone’s recycling can every other week looking for deposits to cash in.  It got annoying because of the racket. The noise from the shopping cart wheels was like the introductory symbol solo from a bad rock song.  With a refrain like a washing machine full of clinking and  clanking tin cans, he’d fish through the recycling cans, one by one, working his way down the block.  It used to wake up dogs throughout the neighborhood and annoy the shit out of everyone.  This at four am.  Every two weeks.

It got so annoying during the warmer months that action was required.  What I did was, drum roll, wait for it – I started cashing in my own empties.  I know, it’s not something that many people relish doing.  I sure didn’t, I had other things to do.  But I started taking the empties to the supermarket and feeding the machines and recovering the paltry sums, mostly to discourage our nocturnal visitor.  That damn shopping cart was driving me insane.

I think the neighbors did the same thing, or else they just started throwing their empties into the regular trash to throw him off the scent, because after a while – the brass band went away.  He disappeared.  I suppose that once we took away the cost-benefit, he started skipping our street.  Or he died or moved away or found a better paying line of work: it’s hard to be certain.  I felt a little guilty about that, but we all need our sleep.

I’m not a land clammer/deposit harvester, I’m more like a deposit grazer.  I pick up what comes my way in the treadmill course of my daily block-circling dog walk.   On the weekends, the proceeds come home and get added to the recycling and yes, I recover the cash for this.  In a good week, we’re talking less than a buck.  Which I donate. I don’t do this for the money: it’s civics.

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The Banality of Litter: Promoting Civic Activism

Some litter is probably inadvertent.

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Other litter is casual,

Empties
Drivers who drink discard the empties, eliminating the evidence

 

or just the result of bad weather and bad timing.

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Weekly ‘free’ coupon papers, buried in slush and frozen solid

 

But the bare fact of litter is that it’s all very basic and human: it’s banal.

If the annals of litter were ever written, they would probably describe the occasional litter kingpin (a contractor no doubt), who would roam the night streets looking for a good spot to offload the days demolition: but the real serial litterer is a much more ordinary person.  In the end, it’s mostly carelessness, expediency, laziness and inadvertence that contribute to litter.  The litterbug, if we were to paint a picture of him or her, is very ordinary; he drinks Budweiser from a can,

Budweiser

enjoys coffee from 7-11 and Dunkin Donuts,

7-11 Coffee cup

likes those caffeinated energy drinks,

Energy Drink, after

and eats a lot of drive through fast food.

Taco Bell!

He (and she) leaves the coupon weekly at the curb, likely because he’s not a clipper.

This Week! (every week)

He fills the recycling can to overflowing,

Overloaded Recycling can

and doesn’t take the time to tidy up after the bulk collectors take away the wreckage from that kitchen demolition.

Construction Debris

All of which can add up to a pretty untidy community.  Unless someone like me picks it up.

My ‘habit’ of picking up litter makes a lot of difference in how the area looks.  I take pride in this, it is a civic good.  But if I were to stop cleaning up, the tidiness of the neighborhood would quickly deteriorate.  I’m only one person and I’ll be gone one of these days.  I’m not alone; other people pick up litter, particularly at organized cleanup events.  But I hope to inspire another person or two to start picking up litter as a habit – to take some day-to-day ownership of the neighborhood.

This is not an activity that comes naturally.  Most adults wouldn’t readily pick up trash by the curb because it’s not something that we’ve been taught to do.  It’s an oversight, really, in our civic upbringing. We didn’t learn this, most of us, in school and in the home – and that needs to be addressed.  And it is being addressed.  Most children are learning this type of civic behavior, this community responsibility, in school these days.  That’s what this is all about in the end, promoting a sense of community, a sense of shared responsibility for our own little patch of the world.

I actually see a glimmer increased community mindedness among the adult residents of the area.  This could be because I’m noticing more, because I’m looking for it.  But maybe not.  Maybe people are taking more ownership because of the example that is being set by civic beautification organizations like Keep Islip Clean, now twenty-five years old, and by the visible results of the cleanup efforts sponsored by them, by the grass roots cleanups that neighbors put together each Spring and Fall.

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One neighbor plows the street with his truck even though he’s not contracted to do that by the town.  Another neighbor rakes and sweeps the elderly persons curb and street area. Someone finally picks up a load of trash that got washed into the dead end by the epic rainstorms last summer.  Flowers get planted in a public space.  People start looking out for each other a little more.

On the other hand, some of the neighbors behave in ways that don’t help. Whether it’s the garbage can that’s left on the curb all the time and never brought back in, or the commercial business vehicle stored in the driveway, the unkempt rental property or the house with a car parked on the lawn – there are behaviors that detract from the beauty of the area.

Short of complaining to the town authorities, there’s nothing much that a resident can do about these sort of eyesores.  Official complaints really ought to be a last resort because it’s not worth starting trouble over minor issues.  In the end, the best offense is a good defense.  Being a steward of the neighborhood, building a sense of community, leading by example.