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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My one-man neighborhood trash crusade


Carrying a plastic grocery bag with me on my daily walks is starting to become a habit.

It’s happening frequently enough that my daughters said they’re thinking about getting me an orange jump suit so it’ll at least look like I belong to a prison work release program.

They think this would be better than appearing as I am, just a conscientious father out to tidy up the planet they’ll one day be inheriting from me.

You’d think they’d be grateful. If things keep going the way they’ve always been, the planet’s the only thing they’ll likely be inheriting from me.

For some reason, even the daughters of two recycle-mad, earth-friendly tree huggers like Val and myself sense there is a stigma to a grown man wandering around his neighborhood scooping up trash.

The haul from yesterday’s 30-minute, nearly two-mile walk are above. It’s about 3 pounds or so. I was able to recycle about half of it which bestows the task with some moral merit.

There are no rules as to what I will or will not pick up, but I try and adhere to the idea that I won’t weave out into traffic to snag a stray napkin. I try and pick up what I or someone else might trip over.

And I keep moving.

There’s a couple houses at the bottom of hills where the trash accumulates, but I’m not going to just stand there and pick it all up. That’s the homeowner’s job, as unwelcome as it might be.

Plus, if an elderly resident saw me standing there and raking up the rubbish, she might ask if I wouldn’t mind mowing her lawn and then, having once for about two months been a Cub Scout, I’d feel obliged. 

Even without a bag, I almost always pick up and tote almost anything recyclable.

This is at odds with what Lucy, our 7 year old, would do. She thinks I’m an idiot for picking up something that isn’t even ours.

I tell her the trash isn’t ours, but the planet is.

I say this with the same kind of Biblical conviction Moses conveyed when he was exhorting the Pharaoh to let his people go.

She’d never dream of picking up a can or a bottle on the grounds that “someone’s lips have been on it.” This from a girl who cheerfully lets the dog lick her face moments after he’s used the same tongue to do the same thing to his own butt.

To me, the stigma should be on those who step over relatively “clean” trash. C’mon, just pick it up and carry it to nearby trash can. You’re setting a good example.

It goes without saying, of course, that there should be open season on anyone caught littering.

But there are laws against vigilante homicide, which is a pity.

There are laws against littering, too, but those simply aren’t enforced.

And while I believe there is a stigma against picking up trash, I have evidence that the attitude is changing.

A passing landscaper saw me last week pick up a littered liter bottle of pop and carry it along. He pulled over and told me to toss it in the bed of his truck. He’d recycle it for me.

I told him thanks, man, for being such a swell guy.

“Hey, there’s more of us out here than you think,” he said. “We can make a difference.”
That’s the kind of encouragement that could lead to some kind of enviro-OC/DC. 

It’s easy to get nuts about this sort of thing, and once you start picking up a little trash, you soon realize it’s not much more difficult to pick up a whole lot of trash. And pretty soon your good intentions are driving you and everyone else insane.

Yes, neighborhood clean-ups are slippery slopes once you start down them.

At least after a few trips the slippery slopes will be mostly litter free.





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