There are millions of issues in this world. We have poverty, hunger, oppressive governments, genocide, climate change and job loss. The list is endless. We all want to see the world eradicated of these evils, yet I don’t think we as a collective group will ever be able to make a significant difference in these problems until we can restrain ourselves from littering.
Littering is the exact definition of giving up, being lazy, and having no pride. My road was recently cleaned by a community service crew, and I have to say it looked amazing. Hundreds of those silver trash bags stretching miles, and not a fast food cup, beer case, aluminum can, or grocery bag insight. But driving home from work on the same day as the cleanup I saw at least a dozen new bits of litter. It didn’t even last eight hours.
After driving my road for nearly eight months, I had almost grown immune to the trash covering the sides of it until one day I saw a man throw an empty Rubbermaid bin into a river near my apartment. I will repeat that because I need it to sink in. A Rubbermaid bin, a completely reusable, recyclable, non-biodegradable, about two feet by three feet box was just thrown into a river. This man had a truck with plenty of room for it and was standing next to a business with several trash cans and a dumpster.
This enraged me so much that I began to pull into the parking area he was in to give him a piece on my mind. As I did, I realized if this man is the type to just throw a huge piece of rubber like that into a river he may have exactly that little regard for me as well. From that point on I began to notice each and every piece of trash. I started to count it in my head, thinking maybe one-tenth of that was an accident that flew from the back of a truck, but the rest had to be intentional.
I began thinking about the fact that if you are driving on my street you are probably headed home where you have a trash can and available trash collection. Or if you weren’t headed home, you would stop and get gas, get food, or see a friend where they too would have trash cans. I tried to think of some justifiable reason why someone would need to throw a plastic cup out of a car before getting to a place they could throw it away. The best I could come up with is if their car had become so cluttered it spontaneously combusted and caught fire.
If we do not even have enough respect for ourselves, our neighbors or our homes to put trash in a trash can, how can we be expect to have enough respect to help people we may not even know. Groups like PRIDE, the Perry County Soil Conservation District, and community service organizations have cleaned these roads and these hills hundreds of times, but the issue is not with the cleaning, it is with the behavior.
A little bit of research told me that the worst offenders tend to be males between the ages of 18 and 34 who usually smoke and eat at fast food restaurants more than twice a week. These are people who probably have fairly low self-esteem and have a negative opinion of themselves and where they live.
It is almost impossible to catch people littering. Despite the posted fines, very few people get in trouble for it. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on clean ups. Hundreds of hours by volunteers and criminals have been spent with little to nothing to show for it. The time and money that has been spent on clean up could be put toward beautification projects that could bring tourism and create jobs, start funds for underprivileged people, or who knows how much good it could have done.
I have been told several times since moving to the mountains that the people here have a special connection to the land. Despite having fewer opportunities than some other places, people stay here because they have family land that has been passed down through generations that is a part of them. Yet they are willing to destroy it.
If there is still someone that is so unmotivated that they cannot even take trash home to throw it out, then we are giving ourselves too much credit thinking we can change the world. Those few people that are motivated and want to do good will always be like Sisyphus trying to roll a boulder up a hill, only our hill is made of trash and it just keeps growing, and we never reach the top.