Picking Up After Our Fellow Humans

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Are you ever astounded by the amount of trash littering the roads near you?

It never – and I do mean never – ceases to amaze me that we live with fellow humans who deem it A-OK to toss trash out their car windows. On the highway, in the neighborhood, by a school, or parked on the beach, these grand citizens of the world have decided that the great outdoors is a suitable container for their garbage.

It was always bad enough with the cigarette butts (which still are tossed by the millions, BTW) but on my daily bike ride I am now seeing beer and soda cans, fast food bags, kleenex tissues, and candy wrappers; you name it, it’s on the side of the road each and every day. Just the other morning we carried back an unopened beer, two empty tall boys, and a plastic 6 pack holder.

Whether they were taught by willfully ignorant parents or it is behavior learned when they had to toss a case of Bud Light Clamato whilst driving their kids home from school, the fact is that all this trash is NOT good for the environment.

Besides being unsightly (and mindblowingly frustrating), this trash doesn’t just disappear on its own one day; rather, it causes all sorts of problems:

  • It goes into sewer drains, causing millions of dollars and hundreds of man hours to clean up jammed pipes
  • It ends up in a body of water, where fish and birds consume it and get sick or die
  • Toxic ingredients in the trash can find its way into groundwater supplies, which then end up coming out of your faucet
  • Things like waxed paper cups and cigarette butts can take up to 5 years to degrade, causing problems the entire time

According to Keep America Beautiful, over 51 billion pieces of litter are tossed by the road each year. Doing the math, that’s 6,729 items per mile. Per MILE. Cleanup of this litter costs over $11 billion each year, money that could be better spent on other causes.

Litter causes litter, did you know that? It’s true. The broken window theory states that if environments are kept in bad shape and not cleaned up, vandalism and other issues will increase and make things worse. When litter-ers see litter everywhere, what’s the incentive for them to even stop for one second and stop doing it themselves?

That’s why we need to clean up after our fellow humans. We can bitch about it all we want, but that doesn’t get any trash picked up nor does it change behavior. We have to make the effort to clean things up in hopes that it inspires at least one person to stop throwing trash out the window.

Author David Sedaris, one of my personal favorites, has a new book out titled Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. In it, he details how he spends a good amount of time wandering the countryside near his home in England picking up other people’s trash. In an interview with OUT about the book, he had this to say about his trash pickup:

“I’ve always been pretty clean inside my house, and I just kinda moved it outside. I picked up rubbish today. I think I’ll do it tomorrow. And I did it the day before yesterday. It’s just sort of what I do now.”

This is a guy worth hundreds of millions of dollars who has taken it upon himself to pick up roadside trash because he can’t stand the way it looks. We can all learn something from him. Next time you’re out, pick up some trash. Inspire others to do the same. We can make a difference, but we have to start trying.

Little Boy Picking Up Litter On Roadside image from BigStock.

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  1. Its true everywhere. I moved to an apartment complex two years ago, the back field was an overgrown mess of weeds. While there were 2 dumpsters right next to it, there was trash everywhere. Last summer I began clearing the field of both weeds and trash. With help I created a shady seating area, garden plots etc. This year I ventured out after winter to find 1 piece of paper trash. That was it! Now everyone who lives here have begun to add to what I started and there is no trash anywhere.

  2. This is so true, it’s really frustrating. When I take long trips I would always see cars in front of us roll down their windows and casually throw away the wrappers of whatever snack they’re munching on inside their vehicle. And the cigarette butts, albeit small, are the most annoying. Makes you think how dirty the person is, polluting his own body, and polluting the environment.

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