By Shawn Dell Joyce
Litter: The rains wash it onto our lawns, collect it in the gutters, 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 landscape.

But litter doesn’t end in the Wallkill Valley. In his eye-opening book “The World Without Us,” an account of how the earth would fare if no people lived on it, Alan Weisman describes a small continent of litter floating in a huge area of the Pacific Ocean north of the equator known as the Northern 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 Weisman’s 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.”
According to the Keep America Beautiful campaign, “People tend to litter because they feel no sense of personal ownership. In addition, even though public 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.”

Walk through Winding Hills Park or Benedict Park in Montgomery, or any of the Rail Trails in Orange County, and you’ll see that otherwise normal people are thoughtlessly dropping trash. These folks are our friends, neighbors, and (gulp) even ourselves. So how can those of us who do really give a hoot stop this blight?

Keep America Beautiful engages people in cleaning up their community and engendering the feeling that they have a vested interest in their environment. The organization points out that litter can also appear accidentally. As in overflowing garbage cans waiting for curb-side collection, or from trucks at construction sites that are not properly covered. And even from municipalities that don’t offer litter cans and 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.

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2 Responses to “Litter”

  1. Ed Helbig Says:

    You’re absolutely right Shawn. In fact polluted runoff, often referred to by the term-of-art non point source pollution (to distinguish from old-fashioned big-pipe pollution) is the greatest threat to streams and water bodies today. Development, the construction of impervious surfaces like roofs, roads and parking lots, and the covering of absorbent natural soil surface, has the effect of preventing rainwater from infiltrating into the ground. The rainwater then runs off, picking up pollution from litter, auto drippings and landscape treatments, unfiltered into streams. In this way, litter can be seen as not just a matter of carelessness nor an aesthetic issue: litter is a threat to our water supply and the health of our ecosystems. That is not an exagerati

  2. Ed Helbig Says:


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