Litter begets litter, meaning until we stop it we have to keep cleaning it up
Today I had sushi for lunch – in my car. Who does that?
I guess it is not as bad as eating a gourmet filet mignon, but the car is not exactly the best place for sushi. A fast food burger or burrito maybe, but nothing that gets dipped in a wonderful mixture of soy sauce and wasabi and is eaten with chop sticks.
I decided on sushi from a grocery store to choose something that would be a healthier between-meetings lunch than fast food. The problem was less in the act of eating, since I managed to not spill anything, but in throwing it away afterward.
Bluegrass Greensource is planning its second annual Main Street Clean Sweep and will be working with 17 Central Kentucky communities, such as Winchester, to clean up litter in their downtowns.
Let me preface this by saying that it is almost impossible to eat a waste-free lunch on the go. A Chipotle burrito comes closest because the aluminum wrap can often be recycled, along with the paper bag it comes in. But they are so good I eat the whole thing, which usually has enough calories to last the whole day.
The biggest problem with eating the sushi in the car was not just the packaging but also the leftover liquid from the soy sauce/wasabi mixture. Don’t get me wrong, my car is nowhere near pristine. I have two young kids, and I believe that I get a pass on worrying about keeping it clean until they are at least 18. But I do draw the line at anything liquid other than water so I wanted to find a way to dispose of my trash before the pungent mix leaked or spilled on my upholstery.
That is where I found the problem: There are very few easily accessible public trash cans. I know that the obvious choice for public trash cans is at a gas station, that is where I usually throw away all of the lollypop sticks, baby wipes and other things that end up in my floor board. Today, however, there were very few gas stations on my side of the road. There were a lot of restaurants and fast food places, car washes and drug stores, but none of which had a trash can that I could find without going into the establishment.
I finally found a trash can on the sidewalk, near the entrance of a McDonald’s. It was quite a relief to be rid of the soy sauce smell, but my struggle to find a trash can made me think a lot about litter.
Now that all of the snow we had this winter is gone (hopefully!), all I can see is litter. I have not noticed sushi containers but just about everything else that is consumable is on the side of the road. I have no idea why people do this. Some litter can be attributed to stupid people who think that litter fairies take the trash out of the back of their pickup truck instead of the wind, or overflowing trash/recycling cans or maybe even the waste hauling trucks themselves, but most of it is caused by stupid people who just don’t care.
The only type of litter that is thrown by ignorance rather than indifference is the cigarette butt. I have known many people in my life who would never throw a soda can out the window but think nothing of flicking their butts. Often, people think that cigarette butts are either too small to count or biodegrade fast enough to not matter. But looking down at almost any intersection will tell you otherwise.
National studies have shown that litter begets litter. Once the first beer can has been thrown down, the other 100 pieces come easily. So often, our first form of defense is cleanups. Many communities do this all year long with inmates, road crews or volunteers.
Bluegrass Greensource is planning its second annual Main Street Clean Sweep and will be working with 17 communities in Central Kentucky to clean up litter in their downtowns. On Earth Day (April 22), we expect more than 1,000 volunteers to pick up more than 1,000 bags of trash between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Last year we worked with seven communities and had more than 400 people volunteer, but the excitement about a concentrated effort has allowed the program to grow to unprecedented levels. Click here to find out if your city is participating and to sign up to help.
There is an Instagram account called “Litterati,” which is dedicated to taking pictures of litter nationwide. I like the play on the traditional use of the word meaning “the educated class.” I feel that the only way to stop all litter is to find ways to educate our kids about the effects of litter on our local economy and environment.
And between now, and when they are ruling the world, clean up after the stupid people.
Amy Sohner is executive director of Greensource and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with Greensource since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, two daughters and a multitude of pets.