Litterbug for Life?

8 Jun
International Tidy Man

International Tidy Man

DC neighborhood blogs, like the Prince of Petworth have been writing about this for a long time.  PoP even started a neighborhood Clean Up day because of it.  For the most part, I’ve just been able to blow it off as “part of living in the city,” but today I saw something that really rubbed me the wrong way.

I was sitting out on my porch talking on the phone when I saw a guy walking down the sidewalk.  I didn’t think anything of it, as he was just strolling down the street.  I did notice he had a brown bag, most likely with a 40 of Old English nestled inside, but that seems far too normal around here, so I didn’t take a second glance.  Surprisingly, a cop rolls up from around the corner and asks the man to dump out the beer.   He seemed a little pissed (as anyone who just bought a new bottle of booze would be), but complied without trouble.  It was when the cop started to slowly ride off that the man got angry.  He yelled something, threw up his hands, and slammed the bottle on the middle of the alley he was standing in.  The bottle smashes, and 40 oz of glass spew all over the street.  The po po, who I’m sure saw the whole thing, didn’t seem to care.  What got me was that the cop cared enough to make the man pour out his beverage, but not enough to get angry about breaking a bottle all over the street!  Clearly the neighborhood would have been better off with a drunk guy walking home, than a street full of glass.

I’d say that most people will agree with me that littering goes hand in hand with economic levels.  Around the world, trash lined streets haunt poor neighborhoods.  Yet it would be hard to find a gum rapper in McLean.  So what is it that makes people litter?  Do people litter because they don’t care?  Because they don’t know better?  As a way of sticking it to the man?  No one wants to live in a dumpster, so why treat your community like a trash can?

I think it is probably a combination of several reasons.  First off people don’t care.  If you take no ownership of your neighborhood, why does it matter if you throw your empty cigarette box on the ground.  I’d say that most people who litter have seen their parents, friends, and neighbors do it their whole lives.  They know that maybe someone will come by and clean it up, and if they don’t, oh well.  Secondly, because they have never learned not to.  I’m sure people say, “don’t litter” when you are in elementary school, but they probably have not learned the effects of trash on local rivers, water supplies, and children’s hygiene.

While I think that neighborhood clean ups are great, and I love the initiative, it isn’t curing the problem.  Children need to learn from day one that it is not ok.  The problem lies when their families don’t know that.  It creates this never ending cycle, forming litterbugs that will most likely be littering lifers.  How can you make someone care?

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