Don't Be Trashy!
Don’t worry. This isn’t one of those “What do you do if your see a piece of trash and it’s not yours?” type of blog posts. Even though we should all agree that the answer is to pick it up anyway! I don’t want to spend much time addressing the fact that we all need to take environmental responsibility and do our part to take care of our resources. I feel like an elementary school teacher telling everyone to pick up trash because it should be an inherent reaction we all know by now.
Instead, I am going to focus on the not so obvious issues that our community faces because of trash. Why not? Earth Day is around the corner and this morning while driving down the road to go to work I saw a patch of dense smoke fuming from a cigarette butt someone threw out their car window. I am sure that person didn’t think about the fact that cigarette butts are the number 1 litter item in the US. They are probably more prevalent than seashells on our beaches (definitely more so than shark’s teeth!). The filters of cigarettes look harmless and fluffy but they are made out of a type of plastic material that takes a very long time to degrade. They are specifically designed to accumulate smoke and toxins. Besides threatening wildlife by ingestion of the filters, they leach toxins within the waterways and pose risk of contaminating our water.
I could go on and on about cigarette butts, however I want to address the economical downsides of littering. Being trashy is expensive!
- The US spends $11.5 billion each year on road-side cleaning programs.
- In 2007, North Carolina alone spent $16.6 million on taxpayer’s money solely on roadside litter cleaning.
- Houses in littered neighborhoods have a decreased value of approximately 7% than those in cleaner areas.
- 1,100 Americans are killed annually in litter/debris-caused vehicle accidents, increasing auto insurance rates, repair costs, and traffic/court fees.
We already know littering is bad; actually, it is illegal—hopefully these interesting notes about the disadvantages littering can have on our economy and our bills may give you a new sense of inspiration to stop our trashiness at its root. How do we stop litter before it happens? Tough question! It would be hard to rebound a piece of gum spitting out of someone’s mouth (and gross, too). Being an example is what I aspire to be. There was a research study conducted using a control group and an experimental group at a river camp site documenting how groups reacted to those picking up trash and those that didn’t. Their results found that groups were more likely to pick up trash when others around them (even strangers) led by example. Be the example! Participate in one (or all) of our Tour de Trash events this summer. They take place on the 3rd Saturday of every month from June to September.
You can also swat a litter bug! The Swat-A-Litterbug Program is run by NC Department of Transportation. It allows you to hold litterbugs accountable of their actions. It may be a bit tricky, especially while on the road where you will encounter most litterbugs. Keep a notepad nearby so you are able to jot down important information you may need to remember (license plate number, time of day, road) and enter it in here.
Although my biggest pet peeve is watching someone throw away a recyclable item into a trash can (especially when the two containers are side by side), I am happy to see the alternative. Most Americans live within a mile of a river or stream (and we all live in a watershed), so throwing trash anywhere but a trash can is refutable when 18% of all littered items end up in streams and waterways. I won’t allow myself to quit without saying that we should all recycle when we can! 70% of our trash is recyclable! So, please, don't be trashy....it's too expensive, anyway.