Monday, September 21, 2009

On Litter

A week ago I spent a few Saturday morning hours picking up trash along the highway near my house. It was a volunteer project supposedly related to the G-20 Summit coming to town late this week, though I have my doubts foreign dignitaries will be cruising I-376 between Forest Hills and Edgewood. Whatever. You know, company's coming, yinz gotta redd up n'at.

Here's what I found:

  • Most common litter by far: Cigarette butts. There were just hundreds per square yard, outnumbering and possibly even outmassing all the other litter. No, we didn't try to pick them up. Somehow cigarette butts get a special status that makes them not litter in the eyes of smokers ... except they are.

    I remember this being a big problem on the beach at Waikiki. There were signs all over telling you to pick up your butts. I think if you dug down to any level of beach sand there you would find cigarette butts in waxing and waning layers depending on how fashionable smoking was in past years.

    I was trying to figure out ways to get rid of the butts. Maybe instead of paying the new fines for smoking in public areas we should give offenders the choice of community service picking up cigarette butts for a few hours? Can we invent a special tool to pick them up by the shovelful? Or could we put a deposit on them and/or offer a bounty? (We could tag each butt so you can count a big trash bag full electronically, right?)

  • Number two most common trash by the roadside: Plastic car parts. They're everywhere. From little pieces of plastic to entire bumpers - there's even a ditch along the stretch we were working that I named the valley of forgotten bumpers because there were about eight partial front-ends down there.

  • Number three trash category: Drink containers. There weren't as many bottles and cans as I expected, and this category includes a lot of fast-food cups and cup lids. Which do biodegrade, by the way, they get really brittle and fracture when you pick them up.

  • I expected a lot of those floss-picks since you see them all the time in parking lots. (I mean really, what is the trigger in the grocery store parking lot that causes people to suddenly think about dental hygiene? And why can't they use the trash can afterward?) But I only found one. The personal hygiene product that was the surprise winner: Q-Tips. I picked up five or ten of them.

  • The area with most trash was the entrance ramp. Lots of bags and large items. It's like they have to dump ballast to get up to highway speed.

  • Styrofoam coolers are not a good thing to put in the back of your pickup truck. Even the plastic ones can get away from you.

  • Road maintenance crews are not tidy. I didn't really expect them to be. They pour asphalt right over the trash and leave bolts everywhere when they replace the guide rail.
Though I thought the entire set of truck lug nuts and bolts was interesting, the only piece of trash I actually brought home was a large broken glass fragment almost 1" on each side. Trust me, I showed remarkable restraint.

So, I've done my part for the city's reputation. Don't you jagoffs mess it up again before Thursday!

Cigarette butt photo by Flickr user multisanti; some rights reserved.

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