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Profile of a Litterbug

Posted Jun 05 2009 5:07pm

Last Monday I was walking across a bridge that spans the creek behind my house and I noticed an unusual amount of litter on the bank of the creek. When I looked closer I noticed that it was a lot of litter - like 4 garbage bags full. Four white plastic garbage bags that had been tossed over the bridge onto the creek bank. Who does that?

I knew I could not leave it there, although, I did not relish the idea of picking up someone else’s weekly garbage. I went home to get my car, camera, and some garbage bags. Unfortunately my camera battery was dead so I did not get any photos of the dirty deed. The bags had split open but the trash inside was mostly together. As I picked up litter, there were some things that I could tell about the perps. They drink a lot of bottled water as there were a lot of empty plastic Pure Life water bottles. So they were a little ignorant in that department. There were no aluminum cans or glass bottles so I’m thinking they may recycle these. They feed birds - odd for litterbugs. You would think that anyone who feeds wild birds would have more respect for nature. They have at least one cat and one small dog. Why a small dog - small cans of dog food. They often buy food already prepared and packaged in plastic containers. They drink soda from 2 liter plastic bottles. I payed attention to what I picked up because I was looking for mail that might have their address on it. There was no mail - so maybe they do recycle. Too bad I could not figure out their address because I was hoping to put this garbage right back in their yard.

Who litters? In this case, the litterers were not totally disconnected from nature, but obviously they had no sense of personal responsibility and consequences. Out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes people litter because they think there is someone who has been hired to pick up litter, so its someone’s job. Sometimes people think its okay to litter if they see litter already there. It has been estimated that 18% of all litter ends up in our streams and rivers and from there it can end up in our oceans. The litter I found was definitely headed for the creek since it was about 2 feet from the water.

Most states spend tens of millions of dollars on roadside pickup of littler. Litter is ugly and encourages more litter. What can be done about it? It’s almost impossible to catch someone in the act. I think education is the answer. We need to make people more aware of the consequences of litter. I think that a deposit on cans and bottles would help, too. Eleven states require a deposit on beverage containers. Bottle deposit programs reduce litter, encourage recycling, and generate money for the state.

What can we as individuals do? At least clean up your own space, maybe clean up a little more than your own space. Organize a neighborhood litter pickup. It promotes pride in the neighborhood. Volunteer to help with a beach, river or roadside cleanup. Visit the Keep America Beautiful website for many good ideas. I’ll never catch the litterbugs who threw their garbage on the bank of my creek (although I fantasize about what I would say to them if I caught them) but people who care for the environment, just by being a good example, exert pressure on people who are not so thoughtful.
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