A Philosopher's Blog

The Cost of Litter

Posted in Environment, Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on April 18, 2014
English: Littering in Stockholm

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After running the Palace Saloon 5K, I participated in a cleanup of a nearby park. This event, organized by my running friend Nancy, involved spending about an hour and a half picking up trash in the Florida sun.  We runners created a pile of overstuffed trash bags full of a wide range of discarded debris.

On my regular runs, I routinely pick up litter. This ranges from the expected (discarded cans) to the unusual (a blender dropped off in the woods). These adventures in litter caused me to think about the various issues related to litter and most especially the cost of litter.

One obvious cost of litter is the aesthetic damage it inflicts. Litter is ugly and makes an area look, well, trashy. While this cost might be partially paid by those who litter, it is also inflicted on those who visit the area and do not litter. One of the many reasons I pick up litter is that I prefer not to run through trashy places.

Another obvious cost of litter is the environmental damage it inflicts. Some of this is quite evident, such as oil or paint leaking from discarded cans. Other damage is less evident, such as the erosion and flooding that can be caused by litter that clogs up storm drains.  There is also the harm done to animals directly, such as sea life killed when their stomachs fill with plastic debris. As with the aesthetic damage, the cost of the litter is largely paid by those who did not litter—such as the turtles and sea-birds harmed by discarded items.

A somewhat less obvious cost is that paid by people who pick up the litter discarded by others. For example, I take a few minutes out of almost every run to pick up and dispose of trash discarded by others. There are also walkers in my neighborhood area who pick up trash during their entire walk—I will see them carrying full bags of cans, bottles and other debris that have been thrown onto the streets, sidewalks and lawns.  And no, they are not gathering up the debris to cash it in for recycling money.

What I and others are doing is paying the cost of the littering of others with our time and effort. This is doubly annoying because the effort we need to expend to pick up the debris and dispose of it properly is generally more than the effort the discarder would have needed to expend to simply dispose of it herself. This is because such debris is often scattered about, in pieces or tossed into the woods—thus making it a chore to pick up and carry. Also, carrying trash while running is certainly more inconvenient than simply transporting it in a vehicle—and much of the trash beside the road is hurled from vehicles.

Some states, such as my home state of Maine, do shift some of the cost of litter to the litterer. To be specific, these states have a deposit on bottles and cans. When someone litters a can or bottle, he is throwing away the deposit—thus incurring a small cost for his littering. When someone picks up the bottle or can, she can redeem it for the deposit—thus offsetting the cost of her effort. While this approach does not cover all forms of litter, it does have a significant impact on the litter problem by providing people with an incentive to not litter or to pick up the litter thrown away by others.

This model of imposing a cost on littering and providing a reward for cleaning up litter seems to be an ethical system. In terms of fairness, it seems right that the person littering should pay a price for the damage that she does and the cost that she inflicts on others. It also seems right that people who make the effort to clean up the messes caused by others should receive compensation for their efforts. The obvious challenge is making the model work on a broader scale beyond just bottles and cans. Unfortunately, there are many more people who are lazy, uncaring or imbued with a feeling of entitlement than there are who have a sense of responsibility and duty. As such, I know I will be cleaning up after others for the rest of my life.

 

 

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Another Litter Rant

Posted in Environment, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on October 28, 2013
English: Garbage in Romania

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a runner, I cover a lot of ground on foot. While this allows me to be part of the world in a way that driving through it in a car does not, it also means that I get to see all the trash that people just throw to the ground.

While some folks are content to complain about the trash, I’ve generally followed what a friend of mine said years ago: “talk into this hand and do something with that hand: which gets something done?” So, my response to litter is to pick it up. Then write a self-righteous blog about it latter. The blogging is mostly therapeutic-I feel a bit better after a good rant.

One thing that annoys me about litter is how needless it is. After all, if a person can carry an item to a place, then can surely carry it out again-or at least carry it to a trash can. But, this is apparently a bit too hard for some folks-on a typical run in the park by my house, I end up carry a few armfuls of debris from the trails to the trash cans and recycle can.

When I run on the roads, I also see a lot of trash-many people seem to think nothing of throwing out bottles, cans, food containers and other trash. Presumably it is too much for them to just bring the trash with them to their next destination. I can understand it when people toss out really awful things-like bags of vomit. However, throwing beer cans or Styrofoam trays into the road seems to be either laziness or contempt.

Ranting on, one thing that also annoys me is when people litter in the park by throwing their trash out into the woods. While they are presumably trying to hide their crime, they just make it harder to get their trash-especially in places that have thick and thorny vegetation. So, I’d like to ask folks who simply cannot avoid littering to just leave their trash by the side of the trail-that way it is easy for me or the park workers to get their trash. If one must be an ass and litter, at least don’t be a bigger ass and make it hard to pick it up.

Fortunately, I am not alone in my litter picking. There are two women in my neighborhood area who walk everyday and carry bags to clean up the messes left by others. They are good citizens and get the idea that public spaces are not dumps. Naturally, expecting everyone to pitch in and clean up is probably expecting too much. But expecting people not to litter is expecting the very least they can do-which is surely not too much.

Rant terminates. For now.

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Old Wine in Old Bottles

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 25, 2010
A bottle of Pécharmant wine
Image via Wikipedia

Since the Democrats seem to be largely unable to accomplish much, despite holding the White House and Congress, I was actually hoping that the Republicans would make good on their post defeat rhetoric. They had shown some contrition over what had happened on their watch and promised that they would learn from this. I was skeptical, but willing to see what they would bring forth. The Tea Party Movement also gave me some hope-it seemed like a true, independent movement had arisen that was critical of both parties. However, it would seem that my hope (like many folks hope in Obama) was mistaken.

The Republicans recently released their Pledge to America in a lumberyard. Perhaps this was a clever pick to show, metaphorically, that they were going to rebuild America. Or maybe they were saying they were going to be nailing America (again). Or both.

For those who have been around a while, the Pledge sounds like a less impressive version of Newt’s Contract With America. Newt at least had the sense to do his event someplace other than where they sell wood.

While the Republicans are promising something new, they seem to be trying to sell old wine in the same old bottle. They did, however, paste a new label over the old one (or at least part of it). This is not very appealing, given the past results.

It is said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Perhaps the Republicans are thus insane. Or maybe they think we are: perhaps Republican political strategy is saying the same thing over and over and hoping people will vote for them. It did work once, so perhaps it will work again. Provided that people either forget that all this is the same old stuff or are so sick of the Democrats that they will let the Republicans returns to power. Of course, in the Republicans favor, they actually have some wine (albeit old) in their bottles while the Democrats don’t even seem to have a bottle.

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