Why can't we all just pick up after ourselves?
I am increasingly concerned about the amount of trash along our roadways and public areas. The problem is getting worse all the time, with no solution in sight. Not only does it look bad and pose health and safety issues, but trash everywhere sends a message that we don't care about where we live. Most of us would not toss rubbish out in our yards, so why do we toss it out of the car or leave it at the beach?
It's great to be passionate about preserving and protecting the land, but I have to say I don't think we're doing it. We need to instill a sense of ownership in those folks who are littering, and work to ensure the next generation puts a higher value on keeping this planet we live on a little cleaner.
The people who litter do so for a number of reasons. Some are too lazy to cart their trash away, others think it's not litter (it's just a cigarette butt), and others just don't get it. We know that children live what they learn, so their children then perpetuate the cycle. With the growing population and increased use of areas previously utilized by only a few, the problem is getting worse.
The way I see it, it will take a concentrated effort from the state on down to individuals to help alleviate the problem. For starters, an intense marketing campaign aimed at reducing litter should be initiated, and aimed at both residents and visitors. Posters promoting caring for the land should be at the airport and other places where visitors arrive. Raising the level of awareness will hopefully touch everyone in some way. For some folks, it might be all they need to finally get it.
Equally important, our children should be taught to respect the land. Elementary school is a perfect time to start. Instruction on the importance of picking up your opala could easily be added to elementary school curricula. Again, children live what they learn, so teaching good habits while they are young will have many benefits later on. An added benefit is that some of these children might convince their parents to change, too. I remember learning about the effects of smoking while in grade school and being so shook up that I was able to persuade my mother to quit.
In the meantime, the directors of the Departments of Transportation, Parks and Recreation and other agencies tasked with maintenance of public areas need to do a better job of cleaning up and responding to concerns about the trash. Times are tight, with funding and manpower reduced everywhere, but cutting back on basic maintenance and upkeep only leads to greater problems down the road. When the same pile of rags and rubbish is along the freeway for months, or an empty case of beer sits near a trash can at the beach for more than a week, this is a problem. When that problem is called in to the responsible department and still nothing is done, this further reinforces the lack of accountability.
Changing the mindsets of thousands of people will not be easy, but it can be done. We are at critical mass with the trash problem, and have to do things differently. We need to get angry about this problem and work to make it better. Volunteer to Adopt a Highway. Or just pick an area and clean it up every now and then. Be visible and vocal with your concerns. In the meantime, pick up after yourselves, and teach your children to do so, too. If we all throw our energy behind cleaning up public areas, there is a great chance we can reduce the current problem and continue to do so in the future.