A NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION YOU CAN KEEP

by Whit Gibbons

December 31, 2017

Recently, I stopped alongside a country road to pick something up. Not a snake, turtle or frog. Nothing fun like that. Instead, I captured an empty sack of dog food, a paper cup and a beer can. Doing so reminded me that the time to make New Year’s resolutions is once again upon us.

Picking up other people’s litter is a worthwhile exercise and an excellent environmental resolution. It only takes a few minutes to clear away unsightliness from a selected area.

Rural roadsides dotted with discarded trash do not enhance the appeal of forest and wetland habitats for travelers. When litter is blown into a field, stream or woods, the eyesore spreads. One upside of a resolution to pick up litter for a stretch of highway (a hundred feet? a quarter mile?) is the ease with which it can be accomplished. Just pull off the road and start picking up trash. Most people feel pretty good about themselves when they have performed a community service.

If you want to take the roadside litter resolution to another level, plan to commandeer others to help you clean up unsightly roadsides in your area. You may even want to arrange for a group you are associated with to adopt a section of road. Many service organizations, garden clubs and scout troops are involved in community projects, and some focus on roadside cleanup. The immediate payoff for such an effort is a stretch of unlittered road – at least for a little while. A longterm benefit is that those who participate are quickly converted to the position that we should not use our roadsides as trash dumps.

An extension of the war against roadside litter is to encourage someone who does not regularly recycle to do so. Your initial goal might be to get them to take a handful of newspapers or a sackful of bottles or aluminum cans to a recycling bin one time. This may seem like an insignificant matter if you regularly recycle, but getting people to change their habits is not an easy task. If you are successful in spawning a recycler, you will deserve any praise you get. And maybe one less bottle will end up littering our highways and byways.

Picking up roadside litter is personally gratifying. It can also remind us of the kind of person we do not want to be. While I picked up the bits of litter I had discovered, I reflected on why people throw trash from their vehicles, sometimes even in front of someone’s house. Does this reflect how a person feels about their station in life? Is littering an act of rebellion against society prompted by a sense of insecurity or inadequacy? Or is it just the opposite? Is the person arrogant? Do they think they’re exempt from the rules of conduct that call for decency toward others? One thing’s for sure, these are not people who care much for our natural habitats and how they look.

I also considered whether we need more forceful ways to curtail what I consider abominable behavior but decided additional laws are not the answer. Dedicated road litterers surely know not to toss out a beer bottle when a highway patrol car is behind them. Furthermore, fines for littering are trivial. Environmental education that leads to a change in attitudes is the only effective longterm solution.

One important rule when picking up roadside litter: Do it safely! When you stop to observe some interesting animal crossing a road, you must always watch out for other drivers; likewise when removing roadside trash. Anyone who would throw a beer can out the window cannot be trusted to be a cautious and responsible driver.

Vowing to help reduce roadside litter is a New Year’s resolution anyone can keep. So save yourself the cost of a gym membership that you’ll let lapse in February. Become a roadside litter warrior instead.

If you have an environmental question or comment, email

(Back to Ecoviews)

 

 
SREL HomeUGA Home