One day last summer, I found myself at the stop sign at Glenview Drive and Old Main in Carbondale. I was behind a car with Georgia plates. I don’t typically notice license plates of other cars, but I did in this case, because when a carry-out container from Burger King came flying out of the passenger-side window I wanted to register everything I could about that car.
I laid on the horn and instinctively thrust my fist out the window, one finger held prominently aloft. I saw the driver glance into his rearview mirror as he drove through the intersection. Truth be told, I didn’t register the plate number, or the make of the car. I was too furious.
But I got out and picked up the Neanderthal’s trash. It contained half a Whopper and a handful of cold fries. I was not tempted. I put it in the back of my pickup truck and found a receptacle for it later on.
Before I got back into my truck, though, my attention was drawn to someone inside the child care center that is right there at the intersection. She was tapping on the window, and when I looked her way she smiled and gave me a thumb’s up. Ah, one good hand gesture deserves another.
It was easy for me to become inflamed by the action of this person from out of state. How dare he trash my street in my town in my state. But it’s not only him. It’s us, too. I can’t believe that all of the trash in the parking lots of grocery stores – the disposable masks, cleansing wipes and soiled diapers – are left by people who don’t live here. Despite evidence to the contrary, Georgia does not hold the monopoly on idiocy.
I do not understand people who litter. Do they trash their own homes? Do they trash the homes of their friends? Do they even have friends? If they respect anything, what? Do they ever notice beauty? If so, where?
Unfortunately, the streets and parking lots of our towns and cities are not the only de facto dumps. I have seen the countryside strewn with garbage – plastic mega-gulp cups from convenience stores, spent beer cans, plastic food containers, paper bags and candy bar wrappers.
Spring in Southern Illinois is glorious, with redbud and dogwood abundant in bloom, and yet there’s all this trash blowing around. What the hell? Tourism is a huge industry in Southern Illinois. Who will want to visit the Shawnee National Forest when Coca-Cola and Bud Light cans are left on the trails and scattered along the roadways?
And it seems to be getting worse. I don’t know if that’s a result of an expanding population or an expanding stupidity. Whatever the reason, we humans are soiling our own nest – from our oceans to the slopes of Mount Everest to our own backyard. I trust Earth will be able to clean up after we’re gone, which, at this rate, might be pretty soon. But it would be nice if we could muster a little self-respect and common sense to help ourselves in the meantime. Each of us cannot save the world by ourselves, but we can do little things here at home.
I was happy to read about Clean SOIL, the anti-littering initiative begun by Glenn Poshard and Les Winkeler. The intent of Clean SOIL (Southern Illinois) is to eliminate litter from the region’s roadways, but organizing volunteer sweeps is only a small component of the group’s agenda. Glenn and Les say their main thrust will be education. Unless we can instill a sense of respect for the environment in our children – and in adults who are still capable of learning – we will be treating symptoms forever instead of addressing the disease.
We have to do more than our share if we are to get healthy. When we see litter, we can pick it up. And when we do, we can read the label. We can boycott businesses that package carryout in plastic containers. When we see someone litter, we can give them a piece of our mind. And we can recycle. At the very least we can put our own trash in a barrel.
How difficult can that be?
Gary Marx is an editor, writer and former newspaper journalist. He lives in Carbondale.