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Cleaning up

2 Jun

One of the things I dislike most in the world is litter.

That makes it challenging to be in Philadelphia, a city with a serious litter problem.

Trash bag, broom and TrashStik

Today I spent about 30 minutes picking up trash in Germantown. I ended up with a pretty large bag full. In the photo you can see my TrashStik, but actually I used my hands and the broom the most. (I wore gloves.)

Some things I noticed:

  • Plastic, plastic, plastic. Almost everything I picked up was plastic. Thinking about how much plastic trash our culture produces reminded me of Nancy Farmer’s book The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm. The book is set in a futuristic society where kidnapped children labor in the “plastic mines” of ancient trash.
  • Comfort. Most of the items I picked up were related to soda, fast food, cigarettes, or some kind of mood-altering substance  (cigarillo holder, beer bottle). I think this speaks to people’s need for comfort, especially in a poor neighborhood where the options that more affluent people use are less available.

(I credit Barbara Ehrenrich’s book Nickel and Dimed with helping me to grasp how taking a cigarette break could feel like important, nurturing “me time” for low-wage workers with little opportunity to meet their own needs.)

I don’t have a specific plan for how often I’m going to do this kind of cleanup, but I’ll get to it from time to time. I’m also on the lookout for more data on why people litter. Obviously some of it is blown trash from appropriate receptacles, but that’s clearly not all of it.

N.b. Needless to say, I don’t get any benefit from linking items for sale, such as the books above. I just do it because I like being able to click and learn more when I’m reading someone else’s post, and I figure others may be the same.)

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How litter is born

7 May

Emaleigh Doley is a writer and civic activist in Philadelphia. This piece from her recent article on littering has me boggling:Emaleigh Doley headshot

How we put out our trash in Philadelphia is no doubt a major contributor to the city’s pervasive street litter problem.

Philadelphians are not required to use trashcans and city-issued recycling bins do not have lids. You can see the results of this on the streets of every neighborhood, on trash collection days.

(Emphasis mine.)

We’re a big city, we’re a poor city, and we’re a city with a lot of row homes. But sheesh, is it really the case that we can’t come up with a solution that prevents broken-open bags and windblown trash all over our streets?

As Emaleigh says, an ounce of prevention when it comes to litter would go a long way.

(You should follow her on Twitter. Smart, entertaining, and doing more than her share to make a better Philadelphia.)