First published in Franklin Journal
My afternoon break today included some time outdoors. I had every good intention to get in a good spring run, but you know what they say about good intentions. I started out running, but a neighbor stopped me. As much as “ego” was wanting to be annoyed, I pushed that thought aside. It’s wise to check and consider being waylaid has its blessings. Sure enough, the conversation evolved to “blessings”, “gratitude” and “unconditional love” – particular words of inspiration.
My next three miles were decidedly a mix of running and walking. Some days, I’m quite focused and I see nothing, but mileage. This means, if you happen to drive by me, it’s likely I won’t notice. Other days I won’t notice, because I am fixated on the world around me. I’m looking around and everywhere. This was one of those days. Much to my annoyance, I noted the sides of the road were litter laden. Six miles round-trip of iconic disassociation of our connection to the earth and its inhabitants. Of particular note, the litter was primarily food wrappers and beverage containers (mostly beer cans and plastic cups) with the exception of one aerosol can of window cleaner, leading me to wonder if this was an indication of “ditching” evidence or mere laziness and thoughtlessness.
I didn’t have anything with me in which to put trash and though I was wearing gloves on a damp, chilly, April afternoon, I had no desire to use them to pick up refuse. At one point, however, I realized I had seen an abandoned Hannaford shopping bag that could have been better utilized than adorning the Maine countryside. Although, a white, plastic bag waving from a tree branch could be noted as a symbol of surrender. I did stop to pick up a few bottles and cans, vowing that the next time I was out, I would pick up the trash along my running trail.
As it dawned on me that most of the trash was food related. I thought on what this symbolized beyond apathy and recklessness. Why don’t people throw out other trash along the roadside? Here you’ll occasionally find a bag of mixed trash. I once found a bag of deer remains. No doubt a poacher disposing of evidence. This day, I envisioned drivers had scoffed down fast food cheeseburgers, washed them down with plastic cupped iced lattes and casually threw the bag, empty wrapper, and plastic cup out the window. Clean Water Action has reported that 49% of litter is fast food related. How can we solve this situation? Picking up trash is a nice thing to do, but it does nothing to solve the underlying problem.
Decades ago, in spite of raised eyebrows from servers and consumers, I would bring my own straws when we traveled or drink without a straw. I preferred that I be allowed to have my own containers filled, as I most often would transfer beverages into auto friendly containers. It was a means of cutting back on refuse and keeping a clean car.
A company’s employee asking a customer if they need a straw is a simple way of taking part in environmental responsibility, as well as saving company money. Upon finding it a cost-saving measure, fast food chains have done this with napkins, rather than try and control napkin dispensers, which are notorious for giving more than one generally needs. A win-win solution for companies and the home we know as Earth.
Each of us can do a part to cut back on food-related litter, whether as individuals or companies. Fast food companies can train employees to ask if napkins, utensils, or straws are needed; gradually encouraging it as a lifestyle choice to not take extra. Individuals can help by consciously consuming food and disposing of trash in a responsible manner.
It would be human instinct for someone who is concerned about such things as litter to be angry and cuss out those who are less concerned. There was a time when I could have been numbered as one of those angry people. Presently, I pick up what I find; give a silent apology to the planet for having to put up with litter; and then while not condoning littering, I offer forgiveness to the offender.
Please, let’s make every effort to fill our stomachs without filling our landfills. What we throw away matters.