Is the trashing of America worsening?

While on a trip in Ecuador, the writer saw a sign in the bus that read: Photo: Litter in a lily pond

Montgomery Village, MD, January 7, 2011 — While on an official business trip to Ecuador in the 1990s, I took a bus from one city on the coast to another. On the bus I saw one of the most perplexing signs I have ever seen. Faded by time, the sign read “Be a gentleman, throw your trash out the window.” (Sea caballero, bote su basura por la ventana). And sure enough, the proliferation of trash on the side of the road was a sure signal that we were coming into an urban area.

Yet today in our own US cities, that Ecuadorian sign is symbolic of what we are seeing all around us. It says to me that the idea is to release your responsibility as a citizen by leaving it to someone else. One buys a product and then gets stuck with the external responsibilities of that product: one of them being the proper disposal of the wrapping, packaging, receipts, etc. Not wanting to be bothered, many people do the expedient thing and just throw it out the window of the car or discard it on the sidewalk or road.

When we adopted our newest rescue dog, I promised myself that I would walk him every day, whenever my 67-year-old body would permit. The walk is extremely pleasant since I live in a planned community and there are plenty of beautiful places to walk away from traffic. Our favorite walk is around a lake (Lake Whetstone) that is about ¾ of a mile long and about ¼ mile wide at its widest. It is full of wildlife, mostly Canada geese that no longer migrate. So what could be wrong with that?

Littering across America

Even though the paths around and the lake itself are cleaned at least once a year by volunteers, and maintained constantly, it is amazing and sad the amount of trash that can be seen on a normal day. The paths have a number of trashcans along most of them (maybe not enough?). However, most of the trash is dumped along the West side of the lake that runs along our city’s main street, probably thrown out the windows of cars and dumped by pedestrians on the street sidewalk.

While on my walks I try to keep a mental note of the trash that I pick up (almost on a daily bases). The usual suspects are there, mostly plastic bags and bottles. Some of the items are surprising like paper receipts and newspapers, which you would think folks would keep just in case the merchandise is defective and has to be returned. While there is a lot of talk about how the printed press is becoming a thing of the past a lot of trash is advertising from newspapers.

Here is an informal survey of discarded items that I have picked up on my routine walks around Lake Whetstone, listed according to frequency:

* Plastic bags - maybe a new law in my county that charges for using bags at retail stores will make a difference;

* Plastic bottles with a large number being for good old water;

Another culprit: water bottles

* Styrofoam and paper wrappings from food, mostly from fast food with the Golden Arches leading the pack;

*Paper receipts - wouldn’t it be easy for these establishments ask the customer if they want their receipts?

* Wrappings from chips, candy, cigarettes, and other assorted products;

* Cigarette butts;

* Beer cans and bottles - today I found a glass bottle with half of the product left. It was something labeled “High specific gravity malt liquor”. I guess the gravity was too much for the dropper;

* Flyers from bazaars, churches, services, etc.

To me this is a new phenomenon. I don’t remember seeing that much trash even 15 years ago. I hate to think that part of this increase may be due to the phenomenal increase of the Latino population in my county. As a Latino and first generation American and because of my professional work in Latin America, I am predisposed to believe that this may be a factor. Maybe because of that, I am extra careful not to contribute to the trashing of America.

I have to believe that most recent immigrants will also have this thought in mind. I make a point to giving anyone dropping trash a dirty look. Most take the hint and pick up their trash. Having a mixed Rottweiler-Doberman as my walking companion helps.

So what is the solution? Just follow the advice in the bus in reverse, “BE A GENTLE PERSON AND TAKE OWNERSHIP OF YOUR TRASH”.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, environmental engineer, Colombian-born, free thinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist. You can find his articles, ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket – in 21st Century Pacifist at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.

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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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