The concept of morality, right and wrong, is a hotly debated topic. Philosophers, lawmakers, judicial officials, parents and educators, among others, all have their own takes on what is right and wrong. You can make the argument that many things, if not all things, are subjectively moral and can be justified when looked at in full context, with all the facts available. There are some things that, when all is said and done, can be defended.
Littering is not one of those things.
For the life of me, I will never understand why people feel the need to throw trash wherever they feel like. Trash cans, and especially recycling bins, are virtually everywhere. Littering simply is not acceptable and it is a major blight on our communities.
You may ask, “why are you so passionately against littering? Nobody’s being hurt.” While yes, it may be true that littering does not have a “victim” per se, it is far from harmless. The major losers in the littering war are the environment on a macro scale and, when you zoom in, our main streets and land preserves. Practically everyone has walked down a beautiful stretch of city street and thought “now, what is the point of tossing your candy wrapper on the sidewalk?” at some point in their lives. Studies have shown that some items, such as Styrofoam, may take up to 500 years to break down. In those 500 years, irreparable damage is being done. Recent measurements have found that 1.9 billion tons of litter end up in the ocean every year. Animals are harmed, entire plant ecosystems can feel the effects, and humans will see noticeable issues. Germs are spread, waterways are clogged, and natural resources may even be contaminated with chemicals, all due to litter and improperly discarded garbage (4).
I’m a big outdoors guy, I love hiking and being able to enjoy the natural beauty of our Earth. With that in mind, my biggest gripe about littering is that it detracts from this natural beauty by dirtying our national and state parks, our rivers and streams, and the likes. Every year, visitors leave 100 million pounds of garbage in our national parks (3), and that doesn’t account for state parks, community parks, or “hole-in-the-wall” local spots. Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing water bottles and snack wrappers along an otherwise gorgeous hiking trail or walking path, and I swear if I see another old rubber tire in a river I might shed a tear. This disrespect of the world we live in is sad to see, but it is something that seems to be a losing battle and that is extremely unfortunate. For every discarded granola wrapper you pick up, it feels like 5 more get thrown down in its place. It is discouraging, but it is not a battle fought for nothing. Taking pride in our communities and working for the greater good is never a waste of energy. Every small bit DOES count and is greatly appreciated.
As the new year introduces itself to us, many people like to take the opportunity to create resolutions or goals for themselves. I propose that we take a collective resolution, a conjoined effort, a shared goal, to reduce littering in our communities. If you have been known to litter, be more mindful of how you discard your trash. If you’re out and about in the city or a park, take a second to pick up one or two pieces of garbage you may find laying around. If we all chip in, we can make a noticeable difference on the front lines of our cities and towns. It may seem to be a daunting task, to clean up the world around us. But, to that I say, never underestimate the power of a community of dedicated individuals. Let’s throw littering into the trash once and for all.