Hey, litterbug. What gives?

Posted 7/28/21

Life is pockmarked with an array of puzzling incongruities. Among them is the fact that we actively recruit volunteers from among our ranks to bag up roadside trash — trash discarded by litterbugs …

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Hey, litterbug. What gives?

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Life is pockmarked with an array of puzzling incongruities. Among them is the fact that we actively recruit volunteers from among our ranks to bag up roadside trash — trash discarded by litterbugs who also come from among our ranks.

A relative few carelessly violate norms. The rest of us are left to clean up after them, as if they were 3-year-olds.

Tossing litter out your car window is moronic.

Look, I really dislike a lot of things in life. A handful of things — online bullying, yardwork, writing “your” instead of “you’re,” people who use the f-word in public and men who can wear skinny jeans — really, really irk me. But few behaviors chafe me as much as the careless, idiotic act of littering.

Why’s it so ingratiating?

I dunno. Aside from letting loose the occasional handful of empty sunflower seed hulls on long drives along open highways years ago, I can honestly say that, as an adult, I’ve never littered. Something about my internal moral compass just won’t allow me to throw out as much as a crumpled-up straw wrapper, probably more biodegradable than those sunflower hulls I used to toss back in my sunflower seed-eating days.

Lest you think this is a humblebrag, rest assured that my own life dossier has plenty of stains on it. And I’m no tree-hugger. But if you offered me $1,000 in cash to toss out my empty Starbucks chai latte cup, I wouldn’t even vaguely consider it. (Starbucks customers must share my proclivity; I never, ever see trash from Starbucks on my walks or cycling forays into the country. Bud Light and Pepsi drinkers, on the other hand, are the absolute worst.)

I took notes on my cell phone about what I saw during a recent walk down a rural road near my house. There was a discarded Little Caesar’s pizza box. A diaper. Quite a few empty blue Bud Light bottles. Three empty Styrofoam serving cups — presumably from an ice-cream run — one with the spoon still inside. Discarded potato chip and Doritos bags. An emtpy Modelo can. A half-full bottle of Mt. Dew Code Red. More fast food bags than I could keep track of. Dozens of empty, flattened beer cans. At least a half-dozen large drink cups, the kind you buy at a convenience stores; some still had lids and straws intact. A shirt sleeve. Empty take-out containers. Some discarded face coverings.

That was just in the first half-mile.

Littering is a Class 3 misdemeanor here in N.C. Intentionally littering less than 15 pounds gets you a fine of up to $1,000 and 24 hours of community service.

In other words, it’s against the law. But so is speeding, many folks must reason; plus, it’s OK so long as you don’t get caught.

I’m sure that wasn’t on the mind of the dudes who threw out all the beer bottles on the road near my house. They were solving a dilemma: they certainly didn’t want to get stopped with an open container of alcohol. That’d be real trouble. Much easier just to chuck ‘em out the window and let them be someone else’s problem, right? Simple. Fix two problems with a single throw.

How much trash are we talking about? In North Carolina, about a million pounds a month is collected in our Adopt-a-Highway programs, on average. That probably puts the uncollected volume at at least another million or two pounds per month.

A recent survey revealed that 48% of you admit to littering. We don’t just need more people like me who hate seeing it. We just need more of the rest of you to be responsible.

For your garbage.

Please. Otherwise, you’re garbage.

Bill Horner III can be reached at bhorner3@chathamnr.com or @billthethird.


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