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Spring showers wash it into our lawns, collect it in the gutters by the roads and consolidate it in storm drains. With no leaves as camouflage, we see the plastic bags caught on bare branches. Beer bottles, tin cans and plastic foam cups nestled like Easter eggs under shrubs and bushes. Litter is a man-made blight on the American landscape within five miles of every town.
But litter doesn't stop there. In his eye-opening book; "The World without Us," Alan Weisman describes a small continent of litter floating in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. His words; "It was not unlike an Arctic vessel pushing through chunks of brash ice, except what was bobbing around them was a fright of cups, bottle caps, tangles of fish netting and monofilament line, bits of polystyrene packaging, six-pack rings, spent balloons, filmy scraps of sandwich wrap, and limp plastic bags that defied counting."
What is the source of all this flotsam and jetsam? Captain Charles Moore of Long Beach, California is quoted in the book as concluding that "80 percent of the mid-ocean flotsam had been originally discarded on land. It blew off garbage trucks, out of landfills, spilled from railroad shipping containers, washed down storm drains, sailed down rivers, wafted on the wind, and found its way to the widening gyre."
So, why do people litter?
According to the Keep America Beautiful campaign, "People tend to litter because they feel no sense of personal ownership. In addition, even though areas such as parks and beaches are public property, people often believe that someone else like a park maintenance or highway worker will take responsibility to pick up litter that has accumulated over time."
Part of the mission of Keep America Beautiful is to engage people in cleaning up their community and feeling that they have a vested interest in their environment.
Every year, Keep America Beautiful hosts the Great American Cleanup from March 1 to May 31. This is the nation's largest annual community improvement program, with 30,000 events in 15,000 communities. Last year, volunteers collected 200 million pounds of litter and debris; planted 4.6 million trees, flowers and bulbs; cleaned 178,000 miles or roads, streets and highways; and diverted more than 70.6 million plastic (PET) bottles and more than 2.2 million scrap tires from the waste stream.
According to the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world, weighing in at 176,000,000 pounds collected every year. Plastic is the next most littered item, accounting for 33 percent of litter, in the form of plastic bottles, wrappers and plastic bags. Beer bottles make up 70 percent of glass found on our road sides, while beer cans are 53 percent of the metal, with another 33 percent coming from soda cans.
What you can do to help? Organize a cleanup in your community by volunteering for Keep America Beautiful at www.kab.org.
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at Shawn@ShawnDellJoyce.com. To find out more about Shawn Dell Joyce and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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