Public clutter: whose responsibility is it?

Two weeks ago my husband and I went out for dinner and a movie with friends, young friends, so we ended up going to Burger King. The place was full of teenagers and apart from the incredible amount of noise they produced, they also produced a horrifying amount of garbage. Half-eaten food on the floor stepped on and smeared across the tiles, drinks spilt across the table, and bags and wrappers strewn everywhere.

When they finished, they got up and walked away.

Then last week we went to Pamplona for its famous festival, and although it’s more known for running with the bulls, the festival itself is really an opportunity to drink obscene amounts of alcohol in public and let loose. The broken plastic cups, plastic bags and bottles of all sorts made walking a challenge and each morning the city’s garbage crews spent hours and hours sweeping up the plastics disaster.

Often, when people are asked why they care so little about public clutter like this, they answer “that’s why the city hires street sweepers” as if they have no responsibility in maintaining the streets litter-free.

I was reminded of a photo I saw once posted online by Canada’s environmental fighter David Suzuki. The photo showed the sea of plastic that was left in a public park after a fundraising concert for the environment. The anti-consumerist website Make Wealth History talks about this problem providing details about the garbage collected one year after the supposedly environmental-friendly Glastonbury Festival:

Glastonbury picked up 6,500 sleeping bags, 5,500 tents, 3,500 airbeds, 2,200 chairs, 950 rolled mats and 400 gazebos.

Fortunately, most of that material could be donated to refugee sites, but what about the rest of the garbage? If attendees left all this behind, how much plastic did they not bother taking away with them?

All of this got me thinking. Whose responsibility is public clutter? Those of you who are parents, what do you do to ensure that your children clutter the world as little as possible?

13 Comments for “Public clutter: whose responsibility is it?”

  1. posted by Steven on

    During President Johnson’s administration, Lady Bird Johnson campaigned to keep America beautiful. I still remember the signs along the highway: Every Litter Bit Hurts.

    I have a friend whose 92 year old father has this morning routine: He goes around his neighborhood with a plastic garbage bag and picks up public trash.

    Clean public places is everyone’s responsibility.

  2. posted by heather on

    When I’m out hiking or walking, I almost always pick up pieces of litter or things I know I can recycle later. Usually I only pick things up that are a smallish size, something I can easily tuck in my pocket or backpack. In other words if there’s something I can’t carry or there’s so much I can’t get it all I know that at least I did something to help. I like to think I lead by example.

    Over the years I’ve made a lot of money picking up returnable bottles left at the neighborhood park my doggy and I go to each morning.

    I try to Leave No Trace when I’m out in the world but I’ve also seen things randomly fall out of people’s bags enough that I try not to be judgey about a granola bar wrapper or bottlecap here and there.

  3. posted by Anita on

    The other day at our local 4th of July festival, my son turned to me and said, “It’s really sad that people can’t pick up after themselves.” So I guess I’m doing something right. I make sure to teach empathy and to look at the world around you and pay attention. We do this in the car when talking about how you need to look at what other cars and pedestrians are doing so you can avoid accidents from people who are not paying attention. And we do this when we’re anywhere out in the world. It just seems that people are over occupied with whatever is going on in their own lives and never seem to look up to find out what else is going on.

  4. posted by Bridget on

    My parents who have passed away many years ago always taught me not to liter. Those lessons have stayed with me thru out life. When my small community was flooded, many houses were abandoned. The one house I pass on my nightly walk had 7 big green garbage bags on the lawn filled with garbage. My town wasn’t aggressive picking up garbage. I went and got garbage stickers(5/13$) and put them on. They were gone. For less than 20$ I made our neighborhood better. Thanks Mom and Dad, I was listening….

  5. posted by Beverly on

    I don’t know why it has to be so hard. If I carry it in, I am responsible for carrying it out…or carrying it to the nearest garbage can.

  6. posted by Jessie on

    When I was growing up. there was an older lady on our street whom we called the “Trash Lady.” Every evening as she walked home from work, she picked up every bit of litter on the sidewalk. Being kids, one day we were mean and tore a sheet of paper into bits, scattering them on the sidewalk just to see if she would pick them all up. Sure enough, she did, every bit. It was funny at the time, but as an adult I realize what a service she was doing for our town, and when I’m in a public place I often pick up litter too.

  7. posted by Kim on

    I teach my 3,5 year old not to leave garbage behind by picking up trash together. I always keep a plastic bag in my purse and when we come across a place that’s been mistaken for a garbage bin, I pick it all up, put it in the bag and stuff it in a public bin on my route. And I always let her pick up what she throws or looses on the ground. “people shouldn’t trow this on the ground ay mommy” she says when she comes across trash. Good girl!

  8. posted by AinOakPark on

    Gosh, even animals don’t poop in their own beds, yet we haven’t seemed to get that message.

    When I was growing up, my father would point out things he didn’t like, saying one of two things: “I NEVER want to see you doing that! That is a low-life thing to do” or, “If I EVER see you doing that, I will kick your butt to Kansas!” (He never hit/kicked us, but we got the idea.)

    Just today, on the freeway, I was moaning about all the trash along the way.

    Really, people! Trash cans are often pretty available, and if you brought it with you, please bring it out with you if you can’t find one. And for those of you who bag up your dog poop and then LEAVE IT THERE-TAKE IT WITH YOU! It’s part of having a dog and being a responsible human. It’s the same with dirty diapers! – Really!? I know they smell, but please dispose of them instead of leaving them at the beach, next to your car in a parking lot, etc.

    And for those people who think there are people to clean up their trash: you pay taxes. Is THAT what you want to pay for? Wouldn’t you like your taxes to pay for something more worthwhile? I keep a bag in the car and a smaller bag in my purse for trash and just throw it away when I get home.

    It’s easy. It hardly takes any effort. It doesn’t take many brains. It’s inexpensive.

    So why not do it?

    End of rant.

  9. posted by Luca Todesco on

    Public clutter is the responsibility of each and every citizen. When you go out, clean your stuff up. Sadly, some people will never learn this no matter how hard we try.

  10. posted by Shannon on

    Cannot believe people have this kind of mentality. I was raised in Oregon and as a hiker and camper, and a common motto that runs through those communities is “leave no trace.” This can apply whether you’re on the tallest mountains or your local fast food joint. It’s a demonstration of maturity to not eat like a slob, and a demonstration of care to take a few seconds to clean up your non-slovenly table.

    – Shannon |

  11. posted by BoppaGram on

    Teach your children at an early age to pick up after themselves. Your example by doing will last a lifetime. Our Dads loved our earth and we were taught as little ones to never, ever litter. Now as senior adults, when we walk our pups we always take a trash bag along with our poop bags. We manage to fill the trash bag on each walk and sometimes more than one. Do your part to keep your neighborhood clean and the world will be a nicer place.

  12. posted by SkiptheBS on

    We are all campers on this planet. That said, resources are finite and anything that can be done to recycle them is a public good.
    Unfortunately, my GOP boss doesn’t agree. I’m having to teach him that making a deposit at the recycling center means that if we need bottle sprayers for cleaning supplies, I can drop in and take a couple (with permission) and save him five bucks. My forays into eBay sales teach him that throwaways can be recycled into money.

    Tenants are mostly unteachable: North Georgia is half or more cigarette smokers with the collective IQ and dentition of an amoeba. They throw butts anywhere and will toss even more if told to cease. They can turn any rental space into a dumpster within hours. Never use green carpet, it only encourages them.

    Commercial cleaners are unclutterers by trade and disposition. We do it all.

  13. posted by Finn on

    I’m constantly amazed by littering habits. I used to think that hikers were amongst the most attentive persons to their garbage, but recently at the top of Ben Lomond in Scotland I saw garbage all the way up, at the top and all the way down. American me took it upon herself to carry away papers, ropes and an old tee-shirt, and when I got to the bottom I threw away a bag that must’ve weighed close to 20 pounds.

    Litter equals lack of empathy. Sociopaths drop stuff, because they have no interest in anything beyond their own body. I have a theory that the more litter you see the more likely murders are going to happen nearby.

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