Gray Watson Personal Thoughts 1998.10.12
Litterbugs Beware

1057 @ Work

Its not that I've not had any thoughts for almost three months. Far from it. No, its that I'm not yet in the habit of writing them down here. Hopefully (or not) this will improve. It is a pretty brilliant Fall day here in the Burg. Temperature climbing into the mid 60s. Some wispy clouds dot the horizon but none thick enough to keep the sun from making it very pleasant. I'm sitting here at work between projects listening to Madonna's "Ray of Light" CD. Very nice. As Linda pointed out, the voice lessons she took for her role in "Avita" are paying off here.

Whenever I go out these days, I try to pick up a piece or two of trash off of the street. When I was young, my father taught my brother and I to "always leave a campsite cleaner than you found it". An important lesson in life that can be applied to a number of areas. Although it often seems that I am fighting a losing battle, it gives me a tiny bit of satisfaction to make an area cleaner. For some reason if there is a wall of green grass or shrubs, my eyes will be drawn to the newspaper, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, or other droppings of the ignorant.

I tried for a while to start the Volunteer Neighborhood Cleanup Organization (VNCO) but could not get it going. I do a lot better on my own without schedules or other organizational hassles -- I just head out with a garbage bag and walk around the neighborhood. I need to start this up again however. I used to also be involved more with Pittsburgh Cares, a really great volunteer organization. They are basically volunteer brokers where volunteers and organization needed help can meet to improve the communities. There may exist a Insert-Your-City-Name-Here Cares organization in your area. If not, consider starting one.

One of my favorite stories about my wife Rosemary is that on our second date, as we passed a cigarette pack lying in the middle of a parking lot, it was she that bent down to pick it up. I could not help to compare this with an x-girlfriend who had just dropped a coke can by the side of the road as we were walking home from a movie. I went back and got it and admonished her for it. She is now reformed and picked up the trash around her bus stop recently. Cool!

Back to the garbage, litter, waste. I have a theory that smokers contribute more than their fair share of the urban filth. I think it starts with the butt of course. How many times have you watched a cigarette fly out of car window when you know that chances are pretty good that the vehicle has an ashtray. I have also seen people throw the packs out the windows as well. I can tell you that although the cardboard decomposes, the cellophane wrapper never does. I've picked up at least 1000 of them on the side of the road. One time I passed this woman waiting for the bus at a corner. She finished smoking her cigarette, flicked the butt into the street, took the last cigarette out of the pack which she crumbled and dropped on this newly landscaped beautifully green lawn behind her. I almost threw up on her. I always want to grab these people (not just smokers but anyone I see littering), shake them, and ask them who they are expecting to clean up after them -- their mother?

It starts with the butt, is perpetuated by the pack. How hard is it then to toss the coke can or the candy wrapper out of the window. To get rid of this sticky and gooey annoyance in the manner to which one is accustomed. Although I have little to no scientific data to support by claim, I think that it follows.

Another contributing force to the urban litter problem is that I have a feeling that kids have a lot more pocket money these days. This means that when they come home for grade or high school, they can pick up a snickers and a coke. This inevitably translates into a candy wrapper and aluminum car by the side of the road.

What can you do to help?

Certainly resisting the impulse to throw crap out of your car window is a good place to start. Emptying your ash tray in a random parking lot is also inappropriate behavior. Also don't let someone else in the car to do these either. If you see someone doing the same on the highway pick up the car phone if available and call 888-LITTER-BUG (888-548-8372). You can then report the perpetrators state and license number immediately. This is run by a non-profit organization here in Pennsylvania. I'm not sure that it works outside of our state unfortunately. Maybe you can try it and see who answers. If you witness a littering and you have the opportunity to comment to the driver at the next stop sign or light, do so politely. Ask them in the future to use their ash tray or to keep a bag in the car for garbage. Road rage seems to be increasing these days so use this with caution and back down if they respond angrily.

What else can you do?

How about sitting your child down and make sure that they find proper place to dispose of their garbage. Also, make sure that they ask their friends not to litter either. Explain that this is not appropriate social behavior and that if everyone did it, they would not have the green areas they enjoy running around in.

Lastly, how about talking to your coworkers and getting your company to participate in the adopt-a-highway program. In Pennsylvania, you call 717-783-5692. Feel free to get me other state's numbers. You go out once every three months or so and spend 2-3 hours cleaning up a mile or so of highway. Not only do these programs keep our highways cleaner, but they get people more in touch with the litter problem. Remember folks that we are trying to get our governments to cut back taxes. This means that services such as little pickup will also be cut back and it is up to us citizens to take up the slack. If you can't get your office to do this, just take walks with your trash bags. Don't worry, if you live any place near the city, you should be able to find some places which need your attention.

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