We Claim the Right to Toss Trash in Your Yard!

I thought I’d lift this comment up into the potential (if rarely realized) realm of conversation. A reader expressed doubt that, even with the wealth and power of “big ideas” among the earth’s grassroots organizations, little would happen.

His explanation of why: “Big ideas don’t really have a chance at gaining traction when I see that we haven’t been able to stop simple problems such as litter.”

My response with some changes: “Big ideas suffer from the prevailing selfishness that so permeates a dominant political headset these days: it’s all about me, here, now. Litter is the result of too many individuals’ reaction to immediate convenience.  Rolling down the window and tossing hamburger wrappers—-and especially empty cans of the cheapest beer—-is how they avoid messing up their car, and to hell with anybody else.

They take no ownership of the present-day commons, of others, in other places, in future times. That is not a factor in their thought world, apparently. My faint hope is that the efforts of the thousands of groups—-like SustainFloyd, that Hawkens celebrates– truly will become the Earth’s immune response against that kind of self-serving myopic homo-destructive pettiness.”

And then I wondered: would a study show that the inclination to litter was higher among that certain group of people who hold that the highest good is their own personal freedoms to do whatever they choose, whenever and wherever they choose?

They deny support of a cause that smacks of social justice. Treating other people’s property with respect even though it denies them their personal freedoms, I suppose, seems like restrictive socialism. It prohibits them from having DOMINION over the Earth, and after all, God said we white Christian males were to have dominion, they say.

I am and have been genuinely puzzled by what it is that makes some people take no thought whatsoever before they toss the leavings of a fast food meal onto the side of a Floyd County road. Is this way of thinking we’re now seeing at the national level part of the explanation?

And if their faction wins big, should we prepare for a tsunami of crap on America’s roadsides as a statement of unfettered personal freedom?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I think we have made tremendous progress, at least on litter. I was watching the TV Show “Mad Men, ” which is known for very it’s realistic portrayal of early 60s business culture in NYC. There is a scene where the star is at a park with his family for a picnic, and when it was time to leave he simply dumped the beer cans and garbage in the bushes. That scene stuck with me because it was normal behavior then but is abnormal today. There will always be antisocial louts among us, but I think the general expectation to not litter is pretty well entrenched in US culture.

    Except for cigarettes. I really wish we could make some progress convincing smokers that cigarette butts are, in fact, litter.

  2. The green where I walk daily is often littered with empty vodka and beer bottles, crisp packets and cigarette boxes. It saddens me that the local youth feel they have the right to leave the remains of their late-night boozing sessions behind with a complete disregard for those of us who also use it.
    I have spent many mornings collecting their rubbish and placing it in my own recycling bin, in fact I often take a bag with me for that purpose.
    Now a fellow walker and I have decided to take photos of the miscreants, easily done since I live next to the green and to hand this evidence to the local police who will fine the kids quite heavily once they have been identified
    Let’s see if £1000 fine is enough to teach them a few manners

  3. Sometimes I debate with myself which is worse – that people notice the litter on the street and do nothing about it, or that they fail to even take notice of it. I think many people live oblivious to anything beyond the myriad “glowing screens” in their lives.

    As to the litterers themselves – “as within, so without”. If you deeply respect yourself, you will deeply respect that and those around you. If you have no self regard, then the planet is your garbage can. Maybe a bit of compassion might be in order?

  4. I do something about trash for selfish reasons. I have about 600 feet of road frontage. The tax assesor calls it either vacant land or suburban, actually it’s both according to them while the zoning is officially Agricultural.

    This could be a long frustrating conversation. I would like to add a few thoughts about policies. Those cheap beer cans are as much about fear as they are about intentional littering. Underage drinkers will ride dirty with full containers. Empties are undesirable evidence whether it’s fear of parents or law enforcement. Addition of a law against open containers means any cans found in a vehicle are potential trouble.

    Maybe that is true with some fast food too. The cheating dieter? I pick up plastic soda and and water bottles. Some are filled with tobacco spittle and I’ll guess some were used for urine.

    I’ve also picked up empty prescription bottles. I doubt the person whose name is on the script is the one that tossed it. I’ve also picked up some packaging from some heavy duty narcotics that have no ID on them.

    Grassroots organizations mostly preach to the choir. Change and growth is more likely to occur closer to home. Monkey see monkey do.

    Other people just assume it’s job creation. I did see some orange jumpsuits one day this year. More urban areas have street sweepers and resorts have their divebombers to pick up after the inconsiderate. That’s not being socially conscious, that’s selfish too.

    Teach your children before they develop any bad parental habits. Confront your friends and hope they see the light. Good luck trying to shame a stranger.