Alex Palmer's Natural History Notes and Thoughts

Thoughts and reflections on various social and environmental issues, as well as naturalist observations from the great outdoors.

Litter bug or dork? The truth about littering

I used to get made fun off when someone would drop a soda can or a candy wrapper on the ground and I would harshly call them out on it.  “Don’t litter!”  I would say as I desperately tried to pick up all of the little plastic or Styrofoam scraps my peers would toss all over the ground.  I would either then be referred to as a tree hugger or dork, and I would attempt a half-assed ‘comeback’ by shouting “litter bugs!” at my capricious classmates and frienemies.

Was I just overreacting?  Are environmentalists being too mellow-dramatic about the whole littering thing?  I have thought about this for a long time now.  I see people litter everyday.  Along the road someone will toss a bottle out or dump a container of oil into the drain.  Illegal dumping is a real problem in lower income rural areas, such as as Southern Ohio where I spent several months in.

Maybe I should not be so vocal about my opposition to littering.   Besides, I don’t want to keep getting called a ‘treehugger’ and I don’t want to be a ‘save the whales’ hippie.

Yet the truth is, littering is a big problem.  But the concern goes well beyond the environment.  This is an issue that crosses well into the economic line.  Littering has and is contining to have effects on our quality of life.   It kills local wildlife, costing hundreds of dollars in trying to save wild animals that have’t choked or been poisoned.   It is clogging our storm drains and creating an visual eyesore causing thousands of dollars in damage to homes and business from flooding and debris as well as lowering land values in areas with high litter rates, respectively.   The affects of pollution from landfills and from illegal dumping sites are costing millions of dollars in infrastructural damage, not accounting for the loss of human life from toxic leaks and contaminated groundwater.  Finally, litter is costing billions of dollars on a national and international level, with countless numbers of bottles, candy wrappers, car parts, motor oil, and high-level toxins clogging our marine fisheries and accumulating in stagnant ocean currents.

So I really don’t think that when I whine and scream and moan and groan after you throw your Coca-Cola bottle outside on the ground that I am overreacting.   But perhaps I can leave you with something more than fear mongering.  Below is a list of things you can do to help prevent and reduce (and hopefully eliminate) littering wherever you go.

  • Teach your kids from the earliest age that you can not to litter.  Repeat this message several times throughout the child’s life.
  • Pick up 3-5 pieces of litter everyday.  If 10 people did this every day of the year in a given area, 10, 950-18,250 pieces of litter could be removed in your neighborhood alone!
  • Ensure that lawn furniture and any loose objects you have in your backyard are secured or are brought inside.  For example, beer cans could get blown away in a sudden wind event after you have gone inside for the night.  Bringing in those beer cans and party ornaments could prevent new sources of litter.
  • Purchase products that have less bulky packaging or less packaging overall.
  • When heading out for a picnic or a walk in the park, pack in it pack it out.  This means that any trash that you create you should bring back with you and dispose of at your house, apartment, hotel, etc.  As budgets across the country are reduced, city park managers have less staff and time to empty out public trash cans.  Parks and recreation facilities in remote areas may not have trash cans at all.
  • Clean up after your dog, even in your own backyard.  Doggie doo does breakdown, but as it does it leaves a variety of bacteria and parasites into the soil, which can have adverse affects on  the health of local wildlife populations, as well as polluting sources of drinking water for people.
  • Support local community service groups both politically and financially that help clean up illegal dump sites.  Volunteer with one of them if you have the time.
Even something as ‘small’ as littering can have a huge impact on the environment, and yes even our economy.  It is not going to be people like me that are going to go out and save the world from all of the trash.
It is going to be you.  

One response to “Litter bug or dork? The truth about littering

  1. Dad November 13, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    To litter is to be disrespectful of nature and our society. Pick up the trash and be proud of it!

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