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May 26, 2009–Today’s Way: Okay, this seems like it shouldn’t have to be said, but if you do smoke, please don’t throw your butts out your car window!  It’s not only a terrible danger for causing forest fires, all those butts scattered along the roadsides can attract wildlife who try to eat them and can choke on the filters.  Not to mention, it just looks awful littering our roadways, sidewalks and trails.  Even if you don’t smoke, encourage the smokers you know to not be a butthead and keep their butts where they belong—properly extinguished and disposed of in the garbage.

April 20, 2009–Today’s Way: We spent part of Saturday at our park’s annual Earth Day Cleanup and poked about the woods, picking up trash that has escaped the humans who created it.  Now, this is something we do every day we’re at the park, picking up litter as we go along on our daily hikes and throwing our finds into the garbage or recycle bin when we get home.  There wasn’t really anything much different about Saturday, other than that there were other people there for once, cleaning up the litter, too.  At our particularly favorite trail, which is an unpaved series of hike and mountain bike paths up and down hills and in the middle of the woods, I am struck by how much trash I see there, every single week.  And the majority of the junk I pick up is left there by supposed outdoors types who frequent those same trails…athletic types, mostly, from the looks of the stuff they drop on the trail for others to deal with.  I know the biking people by the “Go Juice” packets we find glittering in the creek, and the family types by the “On the Go” cracker and snack containers fluttering in the breeze.  Sandwich bags, empty bottles and cans (which, in Michigan have a 10-cent bottle refund), candy wrappers, cigarette butts, chip bags, all scattered like leaves among the trees.  Unfortunately, our “On-the-Go” packaging culture has created more trash than ever, which is too often ending up on the ground.  From the amount of carelessly abandoned trash I see, it seems there’s an entire generation who missed the message from the old “Don’t be a Litterbug” public service campaigns.  I wonder if those litterbugs who are trashing our woods, parks and meadows think that their junk just miraculously disappears, or that it’s somehow not their problem.   Except, it has become a problem for others, and the miracle disappearing trick is performed by folks like me who are trying to clean up after them so that we all can enjoy the beauty of our natural surroundings.

But there is hope.  I’ve noticed that, when strangers see me pick up a piece of litter, even though it is not my own, then they often start to do it, too.  It’s as if they are just waiting to be reminded that we all can make a difference, and then they are inspired to be part of it.  We can’t wait for another public service message to change the world–it begins with us, and just one simple step.  You just start taking small actions, and then others will follow.

If you’re out and On-the-Go, don’t wait for Earth Day to pick up the litter that you encounter.  It takes only a moment to bend down and toss it in the nearest trash can.  Teach your kids to do the same—teach them that trash doesn’t simply evaporate into the ether, and to be responsible and make less of it and dispose properly of the trash they do create—and then take it a step further and show them that other people’s litter is every person’s problem.  Conscientious citizens are not born, they are made.  Just make it a habit, and sure enough, little by little, you will motivate others by your example, and our world will be cleaner and more beautiful, one little piece of candy wrapper at a time.

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