Every weekend since my wife and I moved in a little over a month ago, I've taken a plastic garbage bag (not one of those wimpy 13 gallon kitchen sizes) and walked down the street, picking up litter in the grassy area between the sidewalk and the road.
The first week I collected a bag and a half of trash. I figured the amount would drop off as the weeks went on - that the trash had been allowed to accumulate which is why there was so much of it. As the weeks wore on, though, the amount of trash thrown to the ground didn't really vary much from week to week. I'm still collecting around one full bag of discarded trash on the weekends.
As I sometimes tend to do, I've been thinking. My weekly trash pick-up has turned into an experiment in whether or not I can affect the amount of trash discarded on this one street. I've increased the 'area' I'm going to try to keep free of litter beyond my house and down to east entrance of the public housing complex.
As I sweated yesterday, picking up the refuse, I wondered if upon seeing me people driving by would stop next time they were going to toss something out the window. I wondered if my actions would have a long-lasting effect on people in the area.
The fast-food bags didn't bother me as much as the bottles of alcohol. There's so much glass in that strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street that if you collected it all and melted it down, you could probably create a bottle the size of a small Buick.
I also wondered what the people driving by thought when saw me. Was it, "There's that crazy white boy picking up trash again?" Or, "I wonder if he's on a work-release program, poor guy."
After much thought, I'm betting that whatever they thought as they passed by, it won't have an effect on their personal littering habits.
Why do People Litter?
Coming to the conclusion that it will be a hard (if not impossible) task to stop littering in this neighborhood, I started thinking about why people litter. Was it a class thing? Are the lower classes more apt to litter?
I'm tempted to think so, with the reasoning that they usually have 'bigger things' that are important to them, like surviving week to week, or maybe even day to day. And that because of that, it doesn't seem that big of a deal when they throw some trash out the window.
Or does it come down to the individual level - individuals responsible for their own actions? No matter what background they come from, they should still know that littering isn't the best of ideas and affects everyone in the neighborhood.
I did some Googling about why people litter and found a lot of people think it comes down to:
they feel no sense of ownership or responsibility to the property
they believe someone else will clean up after them
litter is already present
Knowing these reasons might help in cleaning up litter in your own neighborhood if it's a problem.
Maybe litter is the smallest of problems on this planet at this stage of the timeline, but it also seems like it would be an easy one to change. What makes someone litter? Is it how they were brought up? Laziness? What are your thoughts?
Also, what can be done about it? Wake County, North Carolina in the United States is offering a free "Litterbug Exterminator Kit" to those who want one. (Personally, though, I think it's kinda cheesy.)
The National Center for Environmental Decision-Making Research has a Decision Maker's Guide to Controlling Litter that's very informative. Missouri has a lot of good statistical info on the average person who litters and what the biggest types of litter are.
I'm really curious as to what other people in other parts of the planet have come across when it comes to littering. Anyone out there living in a country that has particularly harsh anti-littering laws? Are you involved in a local anti-littering initiative?
And finally, do you litter? If so, why? If not, was it something your parents taught you at a young age, or something you started on your own?