By Shawn Dell Joyce
Spring showers wash it into our lawns, collect it in the gutters by the roads, and consolidate it in storm drains. With no leaves as camouflage, we see the plastic bags caught on bare branches. Beer bottles, tin cans and Styrofoam cups nestle like Easter eggs under shrubs and bushes. Litter is a man-made blight on the American landscape within five miles of every town.
But litter doesn’t stop there. In his eye-opening book “The World Without Us,” Alan Weisman describes a small continent of litter floating in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. His words: “It was not unlike an Arctic vessel pushing through chunks of brash ice, except what was bobbing around them was a fright of cups, bottle caps, tangles of fish netting and monofilament line, bits of polystyrene packaging, six-pack rings, spent balloons, filmy scraps of sandwich wrap, and limp plastic bags that defied counting.”
What is the source of all this flotsam and jetsam? Captain Charles Moore of Long Beach, Calif. is quoted in the book as concluding that “80 percent of the mid-ocean flotsam had been originally discarded on land. It blew off garbage trucks, out of landfills, spilled from railroad shipping containers, washed down storm drains, sailed down rivers, wafted on the wind, and found its way to the widening gyre.”
So, why do people litter?
According to the Keep America Beautiful campaign, “People tend to litter because they feel no sense of personal ownership. In addition, even though areas such as parks and beaches are public property, people often believe that someone else, like a park maintenance or highway worker, will take responsibility to pick up litter that has accumulated over time.”
Part of the mission of Keep America Beautiful, is to engage people in cleaning up their community and feeling that they have a vested interest in their environment. The organization points out that litter can also happen accidentally. As in overflowing garbage cans waiting for curb-side collection. Or from trucks at construction sites that are not properly covered. Even from municipalities that don’t offer litter cans and proper receptacles in public places.
Every year, Keep America Beautiful hosts the Great American Cleanup from March 1 to May 31. This is the nation’s largest annual community improvement program, with 30,000 events in 15,000 communities. Last year, volunteers collected 200 million pounds of litter and debris; planted 4.6 million trees, flowers and bulbs; cleaned 178,000 miles of roads, streets and highways; and diverted more than 70.6 million plastic (PET) bottles and more than 2.2 million scrap tires from the waste stream.
This year, for Earth Day, April 22, the Wallkill River School will host a cleanup from 10 to noon at Benedict Town Park in Montgomery along the Wallkill River. Bring a garbage bag and wear boots. Find other cleanups near you at www.kab.org.
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning newspaper columnist and the director of Wallkill RIver School in Montgomery. www.WallkillRiverSchool.com