Saturday, April 26, 2008

Earth Dazed

We had Earth Day in our town this weekend.

As I've written before, I pick up trash when I walk Hviezda. I'm especially on the lookout for plastic and bottles, because they can be recycled, and metal objects, because I perceive them as being more toxic to nature than, say, a discarded napkin.

Today, though, I participated in a town-wide cleanup. I arrived at the fire station at 9 o'clock sharp, was given a pair of gloves and two trash bags, and my marching orders to pick up trash along the perimeter of the East Burial Grounds. No problem. The grounds are not expansive, extending maybe 3-4 blocks one way and 3 blocks the other. Shouldn't take long, I thought.

Think again, Tex.

You just never realize how much trash is hidden along the roads, jammed up against the curb, peeking out from the weeds, trapped in the chain-link fence, half-buried in the ground. It's here, there, everywhere. And it takes a while to pick it all up.

By the time I finished, I had accummulated an impressive variety of garbage. Most of what I scooped up was the usual suspects – plastic bottles, cups, straws, candy wrappers, cigarette cartons – things you can easily envision being jettisoned from a passing car. There was also a lot of broken glass for some reason. Beer bottles shattered to smithereens, dashed against the granite rocks that had escaped the cemetery fence. It took me a long time to clean those messes.

But I would have gladly picked up glass over cigarette butts. It is truly mind blowing how many cigarette butts line our town's streets. I have noticed them, but it wasn't until I started really looking that I realized just how many butts there are. They're ubiquitous – so much so, I dare add, that they almost become part of the scenery. We don't even notice how commonplace they are. They're wedged in every crack and divot in the pavement, so snugly, in fact, that I had to pry them out. They're in the gardens. They're mixed in with the pebbles, stuck under car tires.

They're a scourge. They're an affront. And they made me mad.

I'm no self-righteous crusader. I used to smoke, socially, when I was out at a bar. Thankfully, I ridded myself of the habit, overcome by guilt that I couldn't be nearly as accomplished athletically as I wanted to be by having a social smoke every now and then. Training and running a marathon was my final breaking of the chain.

So, all I'm trying to say is I have nothing against those who smoke. I'd be a hypocrite if I did. But I do give a merry damn about people who don't dispose properly of their butts. The people who flick them, watching them rotate in the air like it's some game; the people who slam them to the ground, as if they're disgusted they can't rid themselves of the habit; the people who launch them out of their car windows, oblivious to where they may go and what damage they could cause. These people make no sense to me. They treat the Earth like a garbage dump. They don't think. They don't think this is the only planet we've got, and if they only thought about the Earth as if it were the inside of their home, maybe they'd give more of a damn about it. Or, maybe they wouldn't.

Most people aren't animals. Most people take pride in their surroundings, at least their immediate surroundings. But venture outside of that personal space, into public space, and it seems as if the rules change, as if they don't apply anymore. I don't understand this kind of change in thinking.

And the trash is just the beginning of it. We're inflicting so much more pain on our planet, a topic I will return to in a later post.

But on this Earth Day, I feel a little sorry for our planet. Sometimes we treat it so badly.


Lou said...

Hey Richard,

Just wanted to let you know I still check in and enjoy your posts periodically and also to say that, like you, I am disgusted by how many cigarette butts line our public spaces. Look on any sidewalk, any parking lot, any park space... Worst of all, look at the sitting areas around an office building.

As you noted, it's not that most people are slovenly or mean; they just don't realize how their trash hangs around.

Remember the "Don't Mess With Texas" campaign? One of the most successful ad campaigns in history... and the entire purpose was to make people stop and think before they tossed out their fast-food bags and beer bottles. Once people actually realized their trash was a problem, they quit throwing it out!


Richard Lewis said...

"Don't Mess with Texas" was an enormously successful campaign. I remember it. Maybe a similar effort would work in Rhode Island. It's all about awareness, really. I think most people, if they were more aware, would choose to do the right thing. I also think many people are unaware how toxic cigarette butts are to the environment. They take a long, long time to biodegrade. That's why they're so bad. Also, they can be so easily disposed. All cars have little ashtrays. Why can't people stub their butts out in them?