You know those warning signs you sometimes see on highways that proclaim massive fines for littering? They’re not joking around. I had a friend go home with a $300 ticket for dropping a cigarette out her window. Sure the ensuing bitching and moaning lasted for days, but the bottom line reality is that she should’ve known better. Cars come with ashtrays.
Here’s the trouble with litter, though. It’s not a universal concern. There are some countries where litter is almost normal because there are enough street-cleaners employed to make even the busiest, messiest streets go from apocalyptic to spotless. I’ve seen it. Then there are other countries that have one trash can per thousand people, which means holding onto your trash is a commitment and the urge to litter feels a lot like holding your pee for too long.
In the States, I think people litter for different reasons. One, they’ll likely never be held accountable for it. Two, it’s empowering to leave a little trash here and there. Three, it’s easier. Four, they’re of the opinion that society is already crumbling, anyway. Five, they simply don’t care.
I feel guilty even if I spit chewed bubble-gum into a bush. Not to say I’m completely innocent; it takes some aging and wisdom to recognize littering as a bad thing. As kids we’ll toss aside anything we’re not invested in, regardless, and hopefully we had parents around to pick up our candy wrappers and juice boxes. As teenagers, we validate a certain amount of littering because we see others doing it, too, and besides, at home we probably recycle, so, like, whatever.
Eventually we see the way trashy gutters, filthy shorelines, and abandoned refuse really detract from the beauty of our world. At some point we (hopefully) become those people who will pick up the garbage they see on the beach, or chase after that runaway plastic bag. I know it takes effort and garbage can be sticky, but the redemption you feel from cleaning even just one piece of litter can really make your day, especially if you know other people saw you do it. I always think: Fuck yes I’m saving the world. What are you doing?
The sad thing is that even if we don’t litter, even if we recycle, we’re still part of a global concern of too much waste and not enough space. Even the trash cans that keep our rubbish in order, they’re emptied into vast landfills, which are more or less just big piles of litter. I don’t know how we’re supposed to solve this problem. It’s too big for me to wrap my head around. Trash happens.
But in the meantime, please don’t leave your cigarette boxes in the gutter. No one wants to see a used condom in the park. If you didn’t want your receipt, then why’d you take one in the first place? Think before you litter next time. It’s an awful habit and it’s not helping anyone. Yes, we’re a wasteful, filthy species. Yes, we’re doomed to bury ourselves in our own garbage. But for the time being, can you not speed up the process with your negligence? Some of us want to enjoy the world while it lasts.