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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

For nearly 30 years I’ve been complaining about the careless, thoughtless people that litter our environment.

I’ve called for police to take the crime seriously. (They seem to have no problem writing speeding tickets when I exceed the speed limit.) I’ve called for prosecutors to take the crime seriously — seek maximum penalties. I’ve called for judges to take the crime seriously — impose maximum fines.

Finally, I’ve suggested that legislators pass laws that call for a maximum fine of $1,000.

Of course, none of that has happened. For a week or two after my annual rant, my mailbox fills up with people who are equally livid with the slobs that cavalierly defile our environment with impunity. And, I have to admit, it feels good to know that other people feel as strongly as I do.

But, alas, beer bottles, soda cans, fast food containers and plastic shopping bags outnumber wildflowers and deer along Southern Illinois roadways.

The problem always seems worse this time of year when roadsides are brown and barren.

When I arrived at the office Monday afternoon after seeing piles of litter along Route 13, I was livid. But, I remained rational.

Do other writers get as angry as I do? What do they say?

A quick Google search was both gratifying and informative.

One writer was so angry at campers fouling an illegal campsite that he live-trapped a family of skunks that had taken up residence under his home, then released the critters at the campsite. I like his moxie, but that’s not a practical way to solve the overall problem.

I also learned litter is an international problem.

Alice Arnold, writing for the Guardian in Manchester, England, suggests it is up to all of us to fight litter. She considers littering a crime of laziness, as well as an overt act of defiance and contempt for the environment.

Arnold said she once threw a bottle back inside a car after the driver had tossed it out. She acknowledged such actions can have unwanted consequences. However, she suggested people let their displeasure be known when someone litters in public.

Shannon Tompkins, a writer for the Houston Chronicle, likened littering to vandalism.

“It’s theft and vandalism on the same scale as if someone broke into a church and spray-painted the altar, broke the stained-glass windows …” he wrote.

I couldn’t agree more.

Tompkins also wrote about the very real cost to taxpayers of cleaning up after the slobs that live among us. He reported Texas City had spent $800,000 one year to clean up litter. That makes the idea of imposing serious fines a little more palatable, doesn’t it?

And, to far too many of us, littering is just a thoughtless act.

Larry Woody, the outdoors writer at the Lebanon Democrat in Tennessee, wrote about watching two young women throw wet wipes to the ground after changing a diaper on the shore of a lake. The other young women threw a wrapper from a granola bar in the bushes.

The truly sad thing? The litter problem could be solved quickly if we took just a second to think of our actions and how easy it is to properly dispose of that wrapper, bottle or can.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.


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