Litter, Litter, Everywhere

Abstract Sculpture by Christoph Neimann, courtesy of NYTimes.com. Abstract Sculpture by Christoph Neimann, courtesy of NYTimes.com.

Yesterday when I got home from church, I stopped to look around instead of scurrying straight into the house, as it was a pleasant 63 and breezy.  And guess what I saw?  Junk.  Lots of it.  Plastic bags, cigarette boxes and butts, candy wrappers, ketchup packets, paper towels, crushed glass bottles, solid lumps of what probably used to be toilet paper.  I made a lap around the house and filled one of the floating plastic bags with trash.

As I rounded the corner, two old men and a young woman approached me.  She was wearing scrubs, probably a hospice nurse, and supporting one of the men as he shuffled down the street.  "Wish more people had that lady's idea," she said to them.  "I seen this thing (gesturing toward what looked like a piece of clothing that had been run over several times) yesterday, and I can't believe I'm seein' it again today!  Nobody even picked it up!"

I smiled at her.  "It doesn't pick itself up, does it?"  "Nooo, it sure don't," she agreed.

We live on a corner lot, so a lot of the trash from the street ends up there.  We try to joke about it; "Honey, that 40 of Bud Ice you drank last night is still in the yard," or "Are you finished with that KFC bag?  Because maybe you could bring it inside."  But it bugs us.  We plant and tend our yard carefully, and we want it to look nice, but there are more litterbugs than there are of us.

After all the anti-litter campaigns of the 1960's, it amazes me that there are still so many people around who feel free to discard their trash in public.  Rob sees this a lot in the city where he goes to school; young people, especially, will be eating as they walk, and suddenly the box of french fries or the can of Coke will fall to the ground as if forgotten.  I've seen little old ladies in Athens search for a crevice in which to wedge their trash, and somehow even that is not as deplorable as that kind of passivity. It's especially baffling in an urban atmosphere, Rob pointed out, because people actually live and work there; they have to walk those streets every day, so you would think they'd go out of their way to keep them looking nice.

When I see things like this, my mind inevitably wanders back to their upbringing.  Who neglected to teach these kids that the world isn't their trash can?  That the right thing to do is to hang on to your garbage until there's a suitable place to toss it (the woods, if it's an apple core, or a trash can, if it won't decompose within a few weeks)?  And, further -- that this planet is a great gift, and we are dangerously close to squandering it with the glibness of the Prodigal Son?

I guess there is one upside to our situation.  A certain Muppet would feel right at home in my backyard.