Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Street cleaners

A recent Facebook status update from a relative of mine has me feeling really disapponted in the state of our society.

And it has to do with littering.

Specifically, my relative littered in the street and was given a warning about this by a police officer. And then she proceeded to laugh about it and post as much on Facebook. And so did her friend when commenting on the initial post.

Now I know what you're thinking: It's just littering, right? Don't police officers have more important issues to, well, police?

Frankly, that's missing the point.

The real issue at hand is that littering is a disgusting, egocentric act that harms EVERYONE. The trash that you dump from your car may supposedly be out of sight and out of mind for you, but it's more than just unsightly for the rest of us. It weasels its way into the ecosystem and wreaks havoc on food chains that inevitably work their way back into harming us.

There are no coincidences. Everything is connected. And if you think that simply tossing that cigarette butt out the window of your car isn't doing any harm, then you're tremendously naive and undereducated in terms of ecological developments. (Either that, or you just don't care.) *shudder*

I earned my degree in Wildlife Biology through a lot of hard work that involved many years of extensive scientific research, and it is frustrating to have people around me who are too self-absorbed to see the big picture and the end result of their actions.

But you know what? Even if you didn't graduate magna cum laude from an accredited biological sciences program, you should have figured out in playschool that littering is wrong.

Don't lick the glue.
Don't run with scissors in your mouth.
And don't litter.

Science aside, to be surrounded by masses of trash is just gross. And if you're throwing garbage out your window because you don't want to have it in your car, what makes you think the rest of us are okay with wallowing in your crap??

There are garbage cans and bins EVERYWHERE and so there's no justification for you to simply toss things out the window. End of discussion.

And, frankly, that's just laziness on your part.

The City of Edmonton finally acknowledged as much several years ago by launching the Capital City Clean Up program, which recruits ordinary citizens to pick up litter and report graffiti in their neighbourhoods. I'm proud to say that my husband has volunteered as a Clean Team Captain ever since the program's inception.

In donning the gloves and patrolling our neighbourhood with garbage bags in hand, we've seen (and smelled) other people's trash first hand. And you know what the worst part of that has been?

The cigarette butts.

They're everywhere. They smell bad. And they're a pain in the ass -- and extrememly time-consuming -- to pick up after the fact.  Honestly, why do smokers think it's okay to use the world as their mobile ashtray??

(Of course, nevermind the fact that cigarette butts pollute groundwater reserves and are eaten by aquatic species who mistakenly think they're a food source. Like I said, science aside, they're also just really gross.) 

The other challenge has been in collecting garbage that's been scattered by wildlife and neighbourhood pets. Although this form of littering isn't intentional, we always cringe when we approach a home that doesn't use covered garbage cans but instead just sets their garbage bags out for collection.

Because, inevitably, an animal always comes along and rips it open, spreading its contents throughout our back alley.

Nothng turns your stomach like having to re-garbage another family's used diapers or food containers after their bags have been ripped open and scattered. (Except for maybe picking up their cigarette butts too. Both are equally deplorable.)

In reflecting back on my initial rant about the relative and her friend who littered, it's not even the littering part that upsets me the most. Rather, it's the fact that they continued to laugh about it after having received warnings from police officers.

Now you know what? I'm no more or less perfect than anyone else, and I'll openly admit that I've done things I knew were wrong. So, in that regard, I'm in no position to judge.

But the difference between us is that I've been remorseful and have tried to correct the areas in which I need work. And if it came to a point where an officer of the law had to give me a warning, I would be mortified. I mean, how humiliating is that??

So for them to have gone through all that and STILL not have figured out that what they did was wrong... well, like I said before, there's just no excuse.


For a brief look at the bigger picture, watch this clip. And be prepared to make a difference by volunteering to pick up litter in your own neighbourhood. It has to start somewhere, and I've seen through my husband that one person really can make a dent in this problem, not just in picking up litter but in leading by example.


  1. Why would someone BRAG about littering? Are we that lazy as a society that we can't walk the 15 steps to the nearest bin (which you can find at every bus stop)? This isn't even about environmental stewardship. This is part of the moral decay of society and the environmental destruction is just a symptom of a larger problem.

  2. So true, Dan!! I'm so glad you got the same feeling as I did about this. Yes, I care about the environment, but it's the flippant nature of people's attitudes that really bothered me the most.