It is better to start young, but it is never too late to pick up the litter clean up habit. Here are some thoughts on how!
Written by Merran Van Der Tak
Retired marketing queen, lifelong smoker and full time #LitterHero.
After she retired in her late-60s, my mother-in-law started jogging every morning. There was a small woodland park behind her house with a trail along the stream. Her route took her through the park then up into “embassy row”, the part of Washington DC where many embassies and ambassadors' residences were clustered.
Shocked by the amount of litter she saw everywhere on her first jog, she took a large bag with her the next day and picked up litter as she went along – not only in the woodland but also on the streets and pedestrian areas around the embassies. The bag filled up quickly. She carried it with her until she found an appropriate place to dispose of the litter. Her daily “jog” became a stop-start clean-up exercise.
Until she was in her mid-80s and no longer mobile, she jogged every morning and always took a bag for collecting litter. Her jogging became slower as she aged – and the bag felt heavier as each year passed – but she persisted. It was pleasant when we visited, to be able to stroll in the pristine woodland. Needless to say, we helped to keep it clean.
My husband and I continued the habit when we retired to Portugal and began to walk (or, in his case, to jog) in the hills of Sintra. A bag or two for litter always went along in the back-pack. We picked up as much as we could carry as we followed the trails through the forest.
The hills here are much much bigger than the little park behind my mother-in-law's house, and our efforts here are just a drop in the bucket. But if each person carried his or her own litter home instead of dropping it, each of them would hardly notice the extra quantity or weight in their pockets. Instead, with my scrawny 45kg, I end up lugging a bag for kilometres until we reach a disposal bin.
And the trails through the hills are still full of litter. Perhaps we do not go out walking often enough. But where are all the other litter-collecting walkers?
Obviously, we cannot pick up all the building rubbish and discarded appliances which people drive into a wilderness area to dump waste. The logic of dumping waste in such a way defeats my logic. Why drive so far on rough trails – perhaps in the dark – when there are places and systems for disposing of it properly, accessible on nice paved roads? Yes, there is a charge for disposing of some items but it must be less than the cost of fuel and wear-and-tear from driving into the wilderness.
In many countries, school groups and scouts are organised (with protective gloves, proper instruction and supervision, etc.) to go out collecting litter in scenic areas. It probably beats sitting in a class-room but they are still learning something – they are often shocked by the horrible things which they find. Hopefully, it will make them think twice before they drop their litter in the future.
It might be too late to educate some of the older folks about proper disposal of litter. But, if youngsters can be taught (and enlisted to help to clean up), the next generations might be able to jog through their retirement on pristine trails without stop-start weight training at the same time.