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 Serra da 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 Serra is 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 Serra 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 the Serra to dump. The logic of dumping in the Serra defeats me. 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 Serra.
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 in the Serra without stop-start weight training at the same time.
One of the most powerful tools in the the Litter Hero's arsenal can be a litter map and litter mapping app. You can share your good work, help build a global knowledge base and encourage other to join you! Here are a few of the best litter mapping apps out there.
To make the most of your litter picking efforts whether alone or with a group, why not share your activity with others? Get kudos, share useful location data and inspire other people to help join litter clean up events and activities. These mobile apps can help make it more fun and more rewarding to be a LitterHero!
With so many urgent environmental issues at hand, why should we be so concerned about litter? Because it's the manageable tip of an environmental iceberg and here's how you and I can deal with it today.
Small actions with a BIG impact
Is picking up a piece of litter at a time even worth the effort? Research says it absolutely is. If your own actions can reset a situation like the one mentioned above, by fixing the broken window, then you have leveraged your litter picking actions exponentially. If you have done nothing more that spread the idea that we all have a stake in keeping our environment in good shape, as other people looked on bemused, then perhaps you will have taken the next massive step to conquering hearts and minds.
Hearts & Minds
Part of the act of picking litter in public aims to make a social statement, or in fact a number of statements:
The ultimate goal of the #LitterHero movement is the really focus on ending Waste in all forms of human misuse of resources. By pausing to collect and consider the quantity and nature of the litter that surrounds us in modern societies, we can stop and realise that it is the materialisation of massively wasteful practices, and that we have the technological means to live near waste free lives today and no extra cost. The final realisation is that we are not mere consumers, at the mercy of whatever products are pushed our way, victims of greedy corporations and the careless ways of other people, but instead that you and me are a driving force to be either part of the problem, or the Heroes in it's solution.
If you believe in a globalized world that what goes around comes around, then good citizenship is a no-brainer. Here's a list of 10 very simple ways to be a better citizen starting today!
A web search for Good Citizenship comes up with about 5,580,000 results. My definition is simple and I try to use it to guide my decisions and day to day life. It's one of the very reasons I decided to pursue the #LitterHero ideal and put this website together! I don't always succeed, but it's a kind of way point that I can always refer back to.
Essentially, the idea is an ancient one: do to other what you would have done to yourself; in this case, I like a tidy back yard, a clean street, a pure environment enjoy and clean oceans for myself, my family and friends. To achieve these lofty goals all you or I have to do is consider other people as we go about our own lives.
You don't have to believe in karma to realise that what you do will have an impact on other people. If your impact is positive you will build good things around yourself but if your impact is negative, you will destroy and harm yourself and others. You can have your cake and eat it too, so long as you don't leave the box on the side of the road.
So here's a list of 10 things you can do right now to be a better citizen, starting from the 4th grade up.
A global movement that is gaining traction is the idea of reducing your personal waste and consumption to near zero, which is a near perfect way to be a Litter Hero. Here are a few great ideas to get started!
Wikipedia says that Zero Waste is a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills or incinerators. The process recommended is one similar to the way that resources are reused in nature.
The definition adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance goes a bit further and states that Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.
Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste is not easy in western societies but it is possible. Here are some great places to look for inspiration and ideas.
A site and blog by Zero Waste advocate Kathryn with many great tips and additional resources for anyone curious about embarking on a zero waste lifestyle.
Simple and easy to read blog about everyday sustainability, simple living, and zero waste. A good source for understanding the philosophy of zero waste.
An excellent source of straightforward ideas for each room of your house, to start living waste free.
Is it even worth getting started on local litter clean up activities when globally, mounting trash is such a massive problem? Yes it is, and here's why.
At times we are bombarded with so many negative statistics, articles, videos and comments relating to the state of the plante, that it all seems just too overwhelming. It happens to me often, but then I think "every single piece of litter on the street, in the forest and in the ocean was put there by someone not entirely unlike me. The same way it got there, it can be retrieved - piece by piece."
Is there a lot of work to be done? Certainly. Is it worth the time and effort? Unquestionably. This is our planet, our home, our street and our own back yard. It's easy to post angry and frustrated comments on social media, but ultimately it's up to you and me to take action to make things better.
The great news is that if even a few people start taking direct action such as joining local clean up initiatives, talking to and pressuring municipalities and telling their friends and family that every one of us can have an immediate and direct impact, then we can effect change on a Global scale. It all starts with me & you!
Wikipedia defines this as when one properly fulfills his or her role as a citizen. There are many opinions as to what constitutes a good citizen. Theodore Roosevelt said, "The first requisite of a good citizen ... is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight." A great way to do that is to get involved with your local community.
Why focus on litter when there are so many even more pressing environmental concerns? It's a great question. One of the reasons I have chose to focus on litter is that I feel it's something so very easy to control, without even changing our lifestyle, just our habits, and if we are persuasive, the habits of our friends and family too. But it goes beyond the local manifestations of piled up kerb side trash; if we no longer accept such sights, we start to grow more aware of our surroundings and our impact on our environment, natural and man-made. Then we can start to shift our current paradigm and all live with more quality and abundance.