This country has an adopt-a-highway program, started in the ’80’s by James Evans of the Texas Department of Transportation, and made famous when not long later Bette Midler and Robin Williams adopted highways near their California homes. Basically, the adopters pick up the crap that other humans throw out their windows. The tonnage of trash tossed without care is debilitating for those who must clean it all, and deadly to animals who ingest some by accident. But ain’t that America. This is who we are. This is what we do. We consciously roll down the car window and dump bags of junk food onto the highway and into the woods so someone else can clean up after us.
Recently, I walked the edges of the woods along country roads and trails like I normally do, and I wondered about something just beyond the obvious eyesore element of this travesty: what’s at the root of the decision to scatter garbage for someone else to clean up? I’m not talking about the occasional accidental trash that blows out the window or falls from a truck. I mean the waste which vomits from people’s car windows onto the road. They actually decided to do this.
The view today, from this wilderness, is not so attractive.
They swing through take-out windows and spend three times more money on a crappy meal than it costs to make a decent one at home, then eat and drive to save time, and finish it all off by dumping the bag out the window before they get to their neighborhood so there’s one less thing to do, or they pile it on the pile of trash others piled on at the overflowing can next to the convenience store.
The endless pursuit of convenience is killing this world.
It takes too long to refill a water bottle, so they buy another not really caring about the cause and effect of plastics and earth and cancer. It’s not that people riffle through a case of Dasani in a few days–though the waste is noted–it is these same people set sail those plastic projectiles. Why? What the hell’s wrong with keeping them in the car until they arrive home? No, they just keep going, racing against nature, against time, trying to outpace the destruction, leaving it behind as they make the next turn, wherever that may be. They pop in another k-cup to save time or they order ahead—yes, people actually get online and order “fast” food ahead, including coffee. And that in itself is not a problem as much as the perceived “waste” of time is creating real time “waste” destroying the lifespan of entire species. And people say they don’t want to be late. And people say they’re running behind. People will tell you they’re making the best use of their valuable time. Sure, they can make coffee at home and use a thermos, but–no. And yes, they can buy a reusable water bottle and refill it–they even sell filtered ones–but, not so much.
And really, no problem with that. Except when they throw those items out their windows into oncoming wilderness. Then we see just what a waste some people’s mindsets are.
But look at this: People throw trash into nature, and companies know that. So companies figure out how to make the trash biodegradable–which is admirable, or they put more trash cans around, or they send out road crews with long spears to collect it all, or they encourage people and groups to Adopt-a-Highway. But all of those efforts should be made moot when people are simply raised to take their time and respect the environment by–and this is a simple one–throwing away their trash in a trash bag.
But that isn’t convenient. And damnit, the McDonald’s bag is ruining the floor of my car.
And for the record, ninety percent of all trash in this country does not get recycled. And ninety percent of people say they would recycle if it were “easier.” EASIER?? I’m having difficulty understanding the “difficult” part of this scenario.
But let me throw out some facts:
The litter on the interstates alone adds up to about 52 billion pieces of litter a year, or about 6700 pieces per mile. Right now–right now–the oceans hold approximately 300 billion tons of litter because lazy-ass, bark-at-the-moon stupid people toss cigarette packaging (#1), paper goods from fast food restaurants (#2), and plastic bags and cups (#3) into or near waterways which sweep the stuff into the currents and into the paths of ocean life, screwing up the ecosystem. The difficult part of this clean-up is 70 percent of that water-bound trash ends up on the ocean floor. The out-of-sight mentality of these childish litterers is causing cholesterol-like clogging of the veins of this planet.
And the now famous Great Pacific Garbage Patch floating around between Asia and North America, which includes supposed radioactive waste from Fukushima, is now between 1 million and 5.8 million square miles in size. Again, there is a waste pile roughly the size of this country floating in the Pacific.
And it isn’t the fault of McDonald’s or Marlboro or Budweiser, though they account for most of the trash we pass on the road and people are quick to blame them for creating such a mass of waste, and to that point–it would help if they’d figure out how to cut that down some. It is simply and directly the result of human beings who vote, who go to church, who raise children, who work hard forty hours a week, who attend football games and tuck their kids into bed at night–and open their windows while driving along the highway and throw a bag full of chewed up food and dirty wrappers out into the world.
Because it is convenient. This “Age of Convenience” is getting old. Time to grow up.