Last week, I wrote about the disconnect that seems to be prevalent between the people who litter and the people who try to keep our community litter free. I wrote, “What is Wrong with You?” after a particularly frustrating week of doing a job, only to return in mere hours to find litter yet again in the location I had just cleaned. I got some feedback from that post, but it came from people who are working out here already. The comments came with the commiseration that only comes from volunteers on a similar mission. They reminded me I didn’t mention the cigarette butts, bottles filled with urine, those dreadful free newspapers, or the possibility of picking up a bottle bomb.
So, in the interest of fairness, I want to share a couple of sources of information that puts science in your hands. Perhaps you think I am just grouchy and concerned with appearances. (I am that, but there’s more to it!)
Have you ever pulled up to a stop sign and cast your eyes down to notice the piles of cigarette butts? Nearly any stop sign looks like someone has emptied their ashtray on the ground, and indeed, sometimes people do that! Keep America Beautiful, the “parent” of Keep Prince William Beautiful, has some interesting information on cigarette litter. They address economic impact, environment, and misconceptions about cigarette litter.
Maybe the idea of 60 carcinogens in every butt doesn’t scare you. It should! Those butts are washed by rain and the chemicals carry into our drinking supply, just like the bacteria from fecal matter. Sure, the water is cleaned and purified before we drink it, but at what cost, and does the process really remove all the contaminants? The EPA has a list of drinking water contaminants and what are considered acceptable levels of contamination.
Let’s be sure we understand that: Some levels of contaminants are permitted. That means we are regulating with the science we know now. It doesn’t mean we know everything and quite possibly, at some future point in time, we may discover the regulations weren’t sufficient. We don’t understand the long term consequences of hormones and other food additives. (By the way, those items find their way into drinking water.) We didn’t understand for many years about the toxicity of insecticides. We weren’t aware for many years that cigarettes were killing us, pollution is deadly, and the air is being poisoned.
I’m beginning to feel like a “Scared Straight” counselor!
Today, I’m not going to dwell on the financial burden caused by litter but I’m fairly certain it is a topic we want to discuss. The time and energy spent by volunteers is dear, but oh, the money we spend to clean up trash and litter!
I know that you are aware of most of these things. What I don’t know is how to get you to remember them, think about them, share them and teach them to the people who don’t know those things. I’m always open to suggestions and good ideas. Patch gives us the space to communicate, so let’s use it!