The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.
Saturday is Earth Day, and much attention is appropriately paid to big environmental problems and the policies we use to address them (Won’t polar bears be grateful that the tropics migrated to them? When will kayak taxis be available in Manhattan? And who needs the Environmental Protection Agency anyway?).
One Homewood resident, Betty Baker, has her eye on a problem that doesn’t always get the same level of attention: litter. Baker wrote to the Chronicle early in April to urge more attention to a problem right here that she says we can do something about right now.
“Mother Earth definitely needs our attention, more than just one day a year, of course. But for starters, may I suggest an Earth Day walk: Include a young person if you can, grab a couple of plastic bags, work gloves and walk your neighborhood, your business location or the area around your house of worship. All are probably accumulating litter at an alarming volume.”
Baker’s letter continued: “I cannot remember a time when litter was as present as it is today. It has been observed that the concept of single-serving food and beverages is the big change, and accounts for the largest part of our problem. Somehow, tossing out the window has become the norm for many people, of all ages.”
She reminded me of a litter experience I had when we lived in Champaign about 15 years ago. I was trimming the grass around the trees in the parkway one sunny afternoon. A car pulled up to the stop sign at State and Vine, about 10 feet from where I stood, and the driver cavalierly tossed a fast food bag into the street, scattering cold, greasy fries and the dregs of a soft drink along the pavement.
“Hey, this is my neighborhood, not a trash can!” I shouted. The driver shrugged and drove off before I could offer further edification on socially acceptable protocols for disposal of food waste. I continued the lecture, of course, as I cleaned up the mess, giving my lawn a real talking-to.
Baker notes littering is learned behavior that can be unlearned. I have high hopes but low expectations in that regard. Instead, I think residents who want a clean community have to put in the work to make it so. Pick that stuff up, even if you didn’t throw it down.
The South Suburbs chapter of Action for a Better Tomorrow has the same notion, posting a Trash Mob event notice on Facebook that invites local residents to “Grab your friends and family and take to the streets to pick up the trash in your community” on Sunday, April 23.
The trash mob announcement urges participants to “take pictures of where you are and what you are doing and post all over social media with the hashtag #trashmob and #actionforabettertomorrowsouthsuburbs.”
Believe it or not, picking up litter is actually kind of fun if you do it safely and do it with friends. In the same Champaign neighborhood mentioned above, we had regular citizens patrols. The main purpose was to keep an eye on the local ne’er-do-wells, but while we were at it, we took trash bags, wore gloves and safety vests and picked up the leavings of our less considerate neighbors.
It’s very satisfying to look back upon green lawns and uncluttered gutters after collecting the mess of a litter-strewn block.
It’s an easy way to make the world a better place.