Glenn Jochum

There are many benefits that come from living on the Main Road — snow removal, public water and accessibility to goods and services all spring to mind.

But the amount of litter that manages to find its way to the lawns and driveways of houses fronting main thoroughfares is not one of them.

If our outer world is a reflection of our inner world, a clean sidewalk makes for an uncluttered state of mind.

All manner of consumer items, ranging from discarded fast food containers to cigarette butts, winds up on our doorsteps and makes sanitation workers of all of us thoroughfare dwellers.

And I say this with the utmost respect, having been an elementary and high school school janitor while waiting to report to the Navy. Suffice it to say, I learned every day how otherwise nice people consider themselves above those whose profession it is to remove and dispose of their garbage.

A Nature Conservancy article reported in 2006 that each of us is responsible for 4.6 pounds of waste a day. and I’m sure that doesn’t even take into account what people toss out of their motor vehicles before they find a trash can or ashtray.

As pernicious as the cups and bottles and uneaten food all are to the homeowner who has to make them part of his or her own garbage, what raises my ire the most are the bags of garbage that people actually have the audacity to unload on a public road or private lawn.

Luther King details how fast food is the most prevalent litter and is most frequently discarded by men between the ages of 18 and 34 in a 2013 editorial on the website litter.itcostsyou titled “Nine Interesting Facts and Statistics About Littering.”

But it’s not fair to single out the young and rebellious, as 75 percent of people of all ages admitted to littering within the past five years.

Mr. King also stated that cigarette butts made up 50 percent of items that are littered.

I was able to uncover some interesting information from  a Department of Transportation report on the history of the anti-litter movement in the United States, which seems to date back to the Keep America Beautiful campaign begun in 1953 by the American Can Company and the Owens-Illinois Glass Company. Other industry leaders such as Coca-Cola and the Dixie Cup Company hopped aboard soon after Keep America Beautiful’s formation.

Regionalized programs such as “Don’t Mess With Texas” flourished for awhile.

Leave it to the Brits to come up with their own cheeky version, “The Dirty Pig Campaign,” a much more guilt-inducing slogan than their original battle cry, the buttoned-up “Keep Britain Tidy.”

In 1990, New York State launched the Adopt-a-Highway Program, which exists in some form in all 50 states. Administered by the Department of Transportation, it offers visibility via roadside signs to groups and organizations that agree to its terms, which involve at least four pick-ups a year.

So, in between, we have all of this trash plaguing our communities.

We’re all familiar with the Department of Corrections clean-up details clad in orange jumpsuits working alongside the roadways. The general public can take comfort in the knowledge that the inmates who participate in such programs are minimum-security prisoners.

There are also feel-good stories through the decades about model citizens who take it upon themselves to launch anti-litter crusades. The venerable Riverhead resident Jesse Goodale was one such example. Founding Riverhead Litter Control in 1987, he enlisted nearly 250 volunteers to help him pick up litter on a regular basis and he remained a visible symbol of the anti-littering movement well into his 70s.

So what do we do to take up the slack left by these groups of good citizens?

At the very least, if you smoke, please use your ashtray. Last I heard, they still make them in cars, though you wouldn’t know it by the number of motorists who refuse to use them.

If you walk, make a habit of picking up some form of litter as you go. Best of all, make sure that the 4.6 pounds of waste you personally generate on a daily basis makes it to a trash can or receptacle near you.

After all, we don’t have Jesse Goodale to lead the charge these days, so we need to police ourselves.

Man is the only animal I can think of who fouls his own nest. But it doesn’t have to be that way. He is also the best problem-solver on the planet.

Glenn Jochum
Glenn Jochum grew up in Huntington, grew up more in Montauk, saw the world with the U.S. Navy and retreated to the last unruined paradise on Long Island, the North Fork. He’s written for the Navy and many Long Island newspapers, and was the managing editor of the Traveler-Watchman. He has written more than 200 songs, six CDs and is one-half of the folk-rock outfit The Earthtones.

One thought on “Fifty Shades of Green: The World is Not Your Ashtray

  1. I was going to comment that it’s not only on Main Road but even on our beaches that people leave tons of trash. But then I realized that in Riverhead many of our beaches ARE Main Road, at least in terms of vehicles.

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