Now that spring has settled into Nebraska for awhile, we see trees budding, flowers blooming, and discarded beverage containers. In the winter, there are much fewer empty bottles and cans on the vacant lot next door. This is due to heavier cruising traffic on the street during the warm months as opposed to the cold months.
This is not to say there are no beer cans and fast food wrappers in wintertime. Most of those are covered by fresh snowfall and are only revealed after the spring thaw. It’s during the springtime that litter clean-up is a major chore.
One of the most troubling aspects about people tossing garbage out of their vehicles is that the trash can be blown onto the riverbank and into the river by the wind. Each spring I manage to pick up two or three jumbo size garbage bags of litter from the short stretch of river habitat in my back yard. The stuff collects there during blizzards and by other northerly high wind events. Knowing that it collects on the riverbank implies that some stuff lands directly into the river.
My little river connects with the Elkhorn River, which is a branch of the Missouri River System that drains into the Mississippi River, and ultimately into the Gulf of Mexico. So the water and soda bottles that float past my backyard, may eventually find their way to the ocean to add to the worsening plastics pollution that affects our global ecosystem.
While I go about the weekly chore of collecting trash from the vacant lot and the daily chore of picking it out of my yard, I reflect on probable causes of why the litter is there. I’m reasonably certain that the beer and booze bottles are tossed out of cars by underage drinkers discarding evidence of their teenage crimes. Which is also evidence of the serious problem of driving under the influence of alcohol. The rest of the stuff is probably due to laziness of people who won’t bother with carrying their trash to a proper garbage can.
It’s easy to feel disrespected by my fellow Nebraskans when I see and must pick up pieces of their garbage from the yard. I try not to take it personally because people in other neighborhoods also face the same eyesores. As I pick up yet another sack full of fast food clutter and another beer can I wonder how many tons of trash don’t get picked up every weekend in Norfolk alone. How much daily litter pollution is there in cities like Los Angeles or New York?
It seems impossible for individual householders to pick up after all the slobs who cavalierly dispose of their trash along the streets and highways. The best solution to any problem is prevention in the first place. So far, prevention efforts have been minimally successful.
I think more needs to be done at the sources. The packagers of beverages, and food must research and deploy environmentally friendly packaging. In today’s regulation-hating political climate, this probably won’t happen. The problem will only gain attention through grass-roots citizen action. A lame litter pick up day on Earth Day won’t even scratch the surface and is not even a band-aid solution either.
We can ponder the fact that there has been a 100-fold increase of plastic pollution in the oceans during the past 40-years. There is a floating area of the stuff larger than the country of Mexico gathering more mass out in the Pacific alone.
I wish there was more I could do than just pick up street side litter and harp about it on my blog. On the other hand, maybe somebody, somewhere will get triggered enough to help discover some real solutions.