Litter is a plague. It is a worldwide problem. Litter generated on one side of the planet can find its way to the other is as little as two weeks. Are you hanging your head because you are part of the problem or holding it up because you are part of the solution?
What is it?
The most common litter items are cigarette butts, plastic bags, food wrappers, bottle caps, six-pack holders, paper, food bags, glass bottles, straws and drink cans. It is just one _________, right? Each one adds up. 180 million tons of trash is generated each year.
Who does it?
Before you start pointing fingers…
- Women and men are equally guilty.
- Children under 15 are the least likely to litter.
- People under 25 are most likely to litter in a group.
- People over 25 are most likely to litter when they are alone.
Young people litter to impress their “friends”, and more mature people litter when they think they will not be caught.
Why do they do it?
Most litterers do not think their item is litter. Just like the question above, they do not think their one item is litter because they see litter as a large collection of trash.
Litterers do not feel like litter removal is their responsibility. Some even view their littering as job security for someone else.
Since waterway clean up makes headlines, the measurement of litter removed from streams, lakes, beaches and waterways startled many news watchers: nearly 7 million pounds of litter removed in one day.
Very few litterers have any knowledge of the environmental impact of their trash. They do not know around 300 different species will die this year from being entangled in or digesting litter which becomes marine debris.
But it is only one piece.
Using the litterer’s mantra against them works. If only internet users picked up one piece of litter today, more than 300 million fewer pieces of litter would be polluting the environment. If we each picked up ten, we would remove 3 billion pieces of trash.
What can I do?
The very first thing to do is stop littering. Do not dispose of anything inappropriately. Put trash in designated receptacles. Put recyclable materials in the correct container.
Do not leave items where they can become litter. If you break something, pick up all of the pieces. If you drop something, pick it up. If you are leaving something outside for a purpose, secure it so it stays intact.
If you walk past a piece of litter, pick it up. Spend one hour this week picking up it litter. Whether you choose the roadside on the way to your job, a park, an apartment complex, outside a business, on a beach, along your favorite nature trail or beside your favorite body of water, pick up all the litter you can find.
If you see someone litter, politely ask the person to pick it up. If they apologize, share some of the impact trash has on the environment.
If you are not comfortable talking to a complete stranger, let them see you pick up the discarded item and throw it away.
Make it a group activity. Organize a team of friends, colleagues, club buddies, children, worship friends, sports team mates or any other social groupies.
Grab some latex gloves and a box of garbage bags. Go to a neighborhood or business district and spend one hour picking up litter.
Make a game of it. Pair up in different pairs than you would normally (no husband-wife teams). Try pairing based on initials or ages. See which team can come back with the most:
- Fast food cups and wrappers
- Cigarette butts
- Plastic and glass bottles
- Pieces of plastic
- Shopping bags
When you get back together, go over a scavenger list to see if anyone found specific items:
- A medium cup with lid attached and straw inserted
- Pizza box from ____________
- A piece of junk mail or a sale paper
- A business card
- Something bigger than a breadbox
Crown the winners who have the most things off the scavenger list!
Make it fun!
Enjoy the satisfaction of making a difference in your community. Get some exercise in the fresh air. Get to know someone better. Clean up part of your environment.
When was the last time you took part in a clean up? Is this form of community service degrading? Will you remember to bend at the knees and not the waist? Will you make a difference in your community?
© Red Dwyer 2012
US Forestry Service
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