Improve your Litter-acy

Litter bugs me (and apparently, it bugs my brother, too — see his recent post about beach litter). As I go about my day, it’s a visual reminder and symbol of the broader environmental problems that our world faces.

I’ve always felt like this, but litter has recently pushed its way back up to the top of my mind because I’ve started taking short walks on my lunch break. After several consecutive days passing the same empty bottles and cans on my several block circuit, I cracked.

Really, it was one particular bottle. A blue and white aluminum beer bottle, perched, almost prominently, on a ledge several feet off the ground right next to the sidewalk. The sun glinted off of it, and the colors and shine stood in bright contrast to the dull brick and beige concrete of the surrounding environment. There was no missing this bottle.

How in the world had this litter remained there for several days in a row?!? How could anyone miss it? Oh wait…didn’t I walk past it again and again without doing anything? A little Gandhi poofed onto my shoulder, thwacked my forehead, and admonished, “Be the change you wish to see in the world, Adam.”

The next walk, I brought along a couple of plastic grocery bags (one for trash, and one for recycling) as well as a pair of gloves. As I walked and enjoyed some exercise and fresh air, I scooped up bits of obvious litter. It probably didn’t take more than an extra minute or two, I think I decently filled my bags, and I felt deeply satisfied at the end of my walk.

The first barrier I encountered (imposed on myself) to picking up litter was, “where do I put it when I’m done with my walk?” I was really hesitant to just walk up to a private dumpster or recycling container and put it there.

Non-recyclable trash ended up being fairly easy to dispose of: there were several public trash cans along my route, near small parks or green areas. Recycling was a bit more tricky, and I ended up bringing the first several bags home with me to put in our home recycling bin.

I also wondered whether I was taking someone’s job or otherwise doing something wrong by picking up trash outside of my own property. Yes, that’s crazy, I realize that.

The City put my mind at ease, though, with a friendly reply to my e-mail inquiry. Property owners in St. Louis City are responsible for litter from the center of the street to the center of the back alley. They also reassured me that, if I was picking up litter from someone else’s property, I had a valid reason for depositing it into their container.

That gave me a bit more confidence to toss some errant cans into containers, but I settled upon a better solution. I checked with the facilities manager at my work and got the clearance to deposit my recyclables into our containers. I can finish up my walk, empty the bag, and walk right back into the office. Beeeeeautiful.

What’s next and where do we go from here?

I’m thinking about getting one of those grabbers to help with the pick up, but I’m also thinking that might be a bit overboard and make me really look crazy.

I’m also taking the Bright Side STL pledge to not litter and help pick it up. I love what this organization is doing, and I am going to look out for opportunities to support them in the future.

Finally, this litter pick up (and my unfounded fears of taking someone’s job) reminds me of an interesting TED Talk. In Albuquerque, they pay homeless to help clean up litter.  They address litter while also providing meaningful employment for those in need.  Pretty cool…

How can you integrate care for our world into your daily routine? What is your shiny, undeniable, litter (figurative or literal) that you have been walking by, and what will you do about it?

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