Every Litter Bit Hurts So Try Giving A Shit

It’s warming up and getting closer to Earth Day.  Like every spring there’s a winter’s worth of trash in our yards, streets, and highway ditches, much of it comes from drive-thru restaurants and beverage barns.

No need to do the research or to manufacturer some story, because I personally witnessed it. Several years ago my wife and I volunteered to pick up litter on Foraker Street between SR 138 and the 7th Street Bridge.  From just one side of that very short street, we filled our pick up truck with trash that was, as stated, carry out wrappers from fast food, and tossed beverage containers, especially beer cans. Not a single resident offered to help and within a couple of months, it was as littered as ever.

Growing up in the ’40s and ’50s people littered but not as much as today. A simple reason, there wasn’t as much to litter with. We ate home, washed and reused our dishes and glasses, and rarely had a beer or pop bottle to toss out a window. Plus, if there was a bottle lying in a ditch there would be a deposit on it so we’d pick it up and take it to a store for the nickel refund.

This article was prompted by seeing large international groups of young people protesting the world we adults are leaving them, coupled with a written article about Maryland outlawing Styrofoam containers that aren’t biodegradable. There are huge swirls of plastics, the size of Texas, in our oceans and I decided that something just had to be said.

Tuesday I drove through McDonald’s for a coffee and an order of their donut sticks. My coffee came in a thermal cup that probably was closer to plastic than paper. The donut sticks came in a small paper baggie which, along with a couple of napkins, were stuffed inside a larger brown paper bag. I have a trash bag in my car so when finished all the trash went into the bag to be sorted and recycled later.

My guess is that I’m the exception to how fast food trash is handled. In my mind, I see most going directly to a landfill and still being intact a century later. If that’s not the correct scenario the other would be, just tossed out the car window into a roadway ditch.

Anti-litter campaign featuring a tearful Iron Eyes Cody.

Back in the 1970s, leading up to the first Earth Day, there were major educational efforts to attack littering. Slogans like “Every Litter Bit Hurts” and public service ads showing the Indian Iron Eyes Cody shedding tears as someone dumps a bag of trash at his feet helped open people’s eyes to the problems their behaviors were causing. I don’t remember when I saw such a PSA these days. And when was the last time you had a littering talk with your children?

First one has to believe littering and pollution is a problem and then consider ways to reduce it. Well, I do think it’s a problem and I do have a few ideas.

  • Every item sold through a drive-thru window should carry a specials tax that goes directly into clean-up campaigns throughout the state.
  • For inside consumption, nothing should be served in a bag or wrapped in a paper wrapper. Instead, it should be served on a reusable plate, bowl, or tray. Eating utensils should not be petroleum based and should be totally biodegradable. Fast food chains should be required to reduce their trash output by fifty-percent withing fifteen years and more as time goes by.
  • All beverage containers should require return deposits and vendors should be given a tax incentive to cover their efforts and costs. Aluminum cans are totally recyclable and overall leave the least environmental footprint, glass is next but is so much heavier. the least friendly container is plastic. The environmental footprint is horrible because of the chemistry behind it and for whatever reasons, it isn’t as often recycled.
  • Styrofoam is not biodegradable and until such is different, it should be outlawed in the food and beverage industry. All carry out food containers should be recyclable and biodegradable.

Okay, all these things would require greater costs, greater effort, greater individual awareness, more time teaching and monitoring your children, yada, yada, yada. But, the results would be a much cleaner and far more beautiful world to live in and enjoy. I’ve much rather see a beautiful blue cornflower growing in a ditch than a faded out McCafe coffee cup.

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