Yesterday I joined a small army (so a platoon, I suppose) of good people who participated in the local portion of the Great American Litter Pickup 2015. We were given a generous breakfast, provided with a picker-upper stick and a bright yellow vest, and sent out to clean up the streets.
My group focused its work on an area near a highway overpass and access ramp, and in that small area alone we collected eight large bags of trash. Included in that were many things you might expect: fast food containers, chip bags, disposable coffee cups, and so on. One of the volunteers suggested that fast food franchises should be obliged to pay for every item of litter with their logo on it, and that sounded like a great idea to me. The trouble is that someone would have to sort through the trash to count them, and that ain’t gonna happen.
We also found some things I could have expected but didn’t, including hub caps, cardboard boxes, styrofoam, and broken bits of cars. Then there were things I would not have expected. Who leaves a dirty diaper beside the road? Or a used condom? Never mind. Don’t answer that.
We wondered about some of the things we found and concluded that most of the paper trash was probably thrown from cars on the highway and these subsequently blew down onto the surface streets. We also thought that a lot of things fly out of the backs of trucks. Large trucks usually have covered loads, but most pickup trucks do not.
Some of the debris is obviously from people who stop, however briefly, on the side of the on-ramp. Those people probably are responsible for broken car pieces and condoms, which got me wondering if there is a connection between the two. I imagined someone stopping to exchange insurance information with a person they had rear-ended then staying to have sex, but I realized I was being ridiculous.
My group then moved on to some residential streets around a small park and alongside some small businesses. There we found the same sorts of litter that we found near the overpass, but noticeably more cigarette butts. It seems that some people pull up in front of a small business and then dump out their car’s ashtray. I shake my head. Their mothers must be so proud.
Something else some people do that baffles me is that in a parking spot they will open their car door, carefully put their coffee cup or soda bottle standing upright on the concrete, then close the door and drive away. Who do they think is going to pick that up?
Oh, that’s right. I forgot. Me. That’s who. And people like me who get really, really annoyed by litter. But we got the last laugh yesterday because we not only got a free breakfast, we also got a free lunch for our efforts. So there, litterers!
Image source: Paul J. Gonzalez, Spartan-Keyes Neighborhood Action Center.