Monday, April 12, 2010

Catch the Litter Bug

Two recent letters to the Syracuse Post-Standard inspired me to write about littering, especially since my colleagues and I are planning to do something about the trash around the Syracuse Center of Excellence's perimeter fence on April 22, aka Earth Day.

The letters express dismay and disgust at the amount of litter around Syracuse. Of course, one culprit is spring—that is, as soon as the snow banks melt you get to see what's hidden beneath the carpet, so speak. Earth Day clean-ups are a chance for all of us to spring clean our neighborhoods and communities.

One letter attempts to empathize with the litterers, but "Who they are, or why they litter, I don't completely understand." I originally was going to ask the question in the blog, "Is picking up litter a sustainable practice?" A pretty basic hypothesis, I admit, but I wanted to ask essentially the same question as Mary Armstrong of Cazenovia: "Why do people litter?" So, for my benefit and Mary's, some possible answers ...
  • Litterers are unaware of the lifecycle of materials and how toxic some are—which is why we all need to educate ourselves about what materials go into products and how/if they breakdown if not properly disposed of. Plastic bags are a great example of a common throwaway item that has a very troubling lifecycle beyond its immediate use.
  • Litterers are unable to find proper places for trash or enough bins—Lack of trash cans is a perennial problem for many towns, especially a cash-strapped one such as Syracuse. And municipal recycling bins are even harder to find. However, tossing trash out of a car window is a pretty lazy option when one of those plastic bags could be used in a car to collect cigarette packets and burger wrappers.
  • Disrespect for environment or community—I think Syracuse's historically poor urban planning has lead to a certain amount of disrespect for the environment that leads to excessive littering. Beautification, green space, and smart growth, should have the effect of reducing littering as a form of civil disobedience!
  • Overwhelmed by trash (packaging)—Packaging is excessive these days and being overwhelmed by lots of fiddly bits of plastic—think of all the stuff that encases and protects something as common as an ibuprofen bottle—doesn't help matters. Reduced packaging means less litter. Packaging that can be be easily recycled or that naturally breaks down means less litter.
  • Other people will clean it up—At great expense to our community, which is the subject of the other Post-Standard litter letter, by Alicia Murray of East Syracuse. A public education campaign might help explain to folks that sales/property taxes are affected by littering when the somebody picking up the trash is a city worker.
—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

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