Saturday, February 19, 2011

Litter Day for Rochester, NY’s environment


A warm spell in February should be a day to get a glimpse of the spring to come, not a morbid revelation that we been throwing packaging and everything else out the window all winter long. Today (February 18, 2011) was a beautiful day to get out and walk in Rochester, NY. It was a warm, sunny break from the freezing cold winter we’ve been having—except for all the litter. In just a short walk around Rochester I experienced a world full of trash blowing about as if a very disdainful species were just leaving the place, impatient to get back to their own planet that their parents had just cleaned up for them. A thaw in the cold shouldn’t be “Litter Day” in Rochester.

Litter accumulates in our environment by blocking our sewers and providing mock or poisonous food for creatures hungry from a long winter. It leaches poisons into our ground and, given the endless variety of harmful ingredients in all that garbage, wreaks havoc on what little of pristine nature there is left to us.

I’ve mentioned this to some folks and they shrug their shoulders, as if to say, “That’s the way things are.” Well, you could say that in the middle of a five-year war. “Bullets flying about creating collateral damage (killing more innocents than intended targets) is just the way things are—stay in your house and forgetaboutit.” No thank you. Just as war ends, so should our adolescent behavior towards our planet end. This litter, this stuff that we mindlessly allow into the biological machinery of our ecology, is making our planet a nasty place to try and survive in.

Cleaning up our streets and neighborhoods from litter teaches our kids that we adults care about our community and our environment. It’s ours, why trash it? What is the point of working and buying all these cars and houses if we let our communities fill with trash? Recycling allows us to reuse many of the products we discard when we are finished with them, and provides a way to extract the resources from them instead of digging up and disturbing more of our fragile environment.

Most Monroe County residents probably care very much about the litter issue. Each spring, all kinds of neighborhood groups go out and pick up ghastly items left by the few who still don’t care. If we could just address one item, paper, we’d be getting somewhere. Paper accounts for most of the residue trash (70%) being put into our waste stream. Paper, all kinds of paper (check Monroe County Recycling), should be put in your recycle bin and not in the trash. (And, certainly not thrown out the window of your car—which, by the way, is illegal.) There’s money to be made for your county by recycling paper. There are markets ready to reuse paper when it is properly recycled--not to mention how sharp our neighborhoods will look when this stuff is not blowing around. Also, 8% of garbage going to local landfill is plastic bags/product wrap. You can take these spent plastic bags to many stores in our area and they will recycle them for you.

There is one thing that would change how much litter ends up on the ground, a comparable “Litter Bill” like we have a “Bottle Bill.” The Bottle Bill has worked so well that that it has reduced the amount of #1 plastics going into our recycling stream, which means the county has to try and make money from recycling other plastics. Put a monetary value on something and people will grab it up. Ultimately though, we shouldn’t have to constantly find ways to pay ourselves to do the right thing. Something, like Not Littering!, should be something a responsible citizen of this planet just does.

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