Who litters? I think we all do, in one form or another.
If we include uncovered trucks and garbage bins, we could say that we all litter – albeit indirectly and due to a faulty design.
If we walk by some litter and leave it there, instead of picking it up (because, it’s so hard to do, right?)… we could be viewed as littering. After all, silence (and inaction) is acceptance. I know I’ve done this on more than one occasion.
If we see someone drop something, then walk away from it, and we say nothing to them about it as we walk by it too… we are participating in the overall issue of littering – simply by not doing anything. It’s easy to do.
Imagine if someone dropped their car keys, would you stop and get their attention with, “Hey, you just dropped something!” That would be expected of us, as good citizens looking out for each other, usually. Yet, if they crumple up an empty wrapper and casually toss it aside; or it falls out of their pocket unnoticed, do we stop and say the same thing? Since it holds no “value” we place no importance upon it and we typically say nothing. At best, we might think bad thoughts about how ugly they must be, for littering, and that they are filthy people. It’s so easy to cast stones from glass houses. Yet, we do nothing to remedy the situation; like picking up the wrapper and putting it into the garbage bin ourselves. Of course, we could also go on to argue that the wrapper might blow out of the bin in a strong breeze and end up in the same place… but that’s getting silly!
In the odd chance we do say something, and this has happened once or twice, we might be confronted with an angry response of, “Who are you to judge me?” I tried this once, when I saw a poor dog chained up in the backyard of a house, in the full summer sun, with no water. Let’s just say that the homeowners did not display much interest in my concern for their family pet. People are different and unpredictable. Still, I felt compelled to act, at least in words.
On the other hand, if we pick up other people’s trash, will they ever learn to notice it and pick it up themselves? Would they see someone picking up trash and think, “Gee, I should give that a try someday.” Or, would they walk by, un-phased and unchanged? I tried this a few times too and got a variety of reactions.
One time, in Mexico, I went to a “boogie” (a skydiving term for “a party with parachutes”). Instead of jumping out of airplanes, I walked along the beach. What I mostly noticed was all of the trash… lots and lots and lots of it, as far as the eyes could see. When I came across a big burlap-ish sack, poking out of the sand, I freed it from its doomed, fruitless future and started filling it up with trash. There I was, an American tourist in Mexico, strolling along in a bikini and sarong, dragging a sack as I slowly dodged back and forth across the beach; bending over every few seconds to pick up bottles, caps, and all sorts of trash. That was the first time I ever heard anyone refer to me as “Hey, Trash Lady!” There’s a certain level of frankness and honesty in skydivers that one can only appreciate and reciprocate, with a broad smile and thumbs up.
When I made it halfway back to where I’d started my walk, I was passing in front of one of the (many) beachfront hotel when I noticed something… a pickup truck pulling up ahead of me; two guys hopped out of the back and raced around, picking up trash before I arrived.
Now, I’m not sure if my walk coincided with the hotels daily trash-retrieval routine, or if my actions prompted the manager to get some guys out, so that the guests wouldn’t see some American trying to clean up their trashy beachfront view. Who is to say what really happened.
The other part of me thinks that I should have collected the trash and left it in a highly-visible area, for hotel managers and clients to see… sending a message that litter is a problem that requires action; otherwise, it will build up until it is too much to ignore.
Perhaps, after that happens a few times, the managers of parks, hotels, cities, and the citizens within them begin to participate in keeping the streets, sidewalks, parks, and public places free of litter. After all, we’re all a part of the problem – and the solution.