The Trash Blog

Keep America Blissful

Phil and I have come to a division of responsibilities on the Trash Blog. Phil packs, drives, and writes most of the posts. I make phone calls.

Since we’ve dedicated a whole staff person to the phone, I take my responsibility seriously. And so, I began calling Keep America Beautiful when we were still in North Carolina. I called four times. Each time I was assured I’d get a call back and there would be no problem in scheduling a meeting with someone at KAB. Yet the phone never rang. So we found ourselves sitting in our car outside the KAB offices in Stamford, CT, unsure of what to do.

Formidable office, KAB, but we weren't intimidated.

Formidable office, KAB, but we weren’t intimidated.

We decided to be brave and act like journalists. We went through the revolving doors. We asked the security guard whether we could go up to the 3rd floor to the  KAB offices. He said no. We said okay. We walked out. I considered giving a little kick to the exterior of the building, just to really show them. But I was worried the security guard might scold me (or drag me off in chains while I chanted ‘we will overcome’ to Phil).

So we didn’t speak with anyone from KAB face to face. But that is probably for the best. Judging by how aggressive you all know we are, we would have really given them a piece of our minds. We are not big fans of Keep America Beautiful.

    A litter patrol keeping Americas highways beautiful... but why not use those tax dollars to find ways to reduce waste before it becomes a problem? Seems like treating the symptom rather than the problem.

A litter patrol keeping Americas highways beautiful… but why not use those tax dollars to find ways to reduce waste before it becomes a problem? Seems like treating the symptom rather than the cause.

The non-profit was founded in 1953 by a group of businesses, among them PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, and Philip Morris. Its original mission was to reduce highway litter and ‘beautify’ America. It should not be surprising that cigarette butts, soda bottles, and beer cans form the bulk of litter in America. KAB is known for such inspiring ad campaigns as the ‘Iron Eyes Cody‘ ads, which featured an Italian man dressing up like a Native American and fake crying.

Who can criticize you when you pull the Native American genocide card?

Who can criticize you when you pull the noble savage card?

In my opinion, focusing our environmental angst on litter is just a crafty distraction. What does picking up litter and putting it into the trash can really accomplish? The garbage still exists, it just gets to sit around in the landfill rather than on the sidewalk. This suggests that trash is only a problem when it is visible – out of site, out of mind.

Out of sight, out of mind. Putting litter in the garbage can doesn't really do much for the environment, it just makes you feel better.

Out of sight, out of mind. Putting litter in the garbage can doesn’t really do much for the environment, it just makes you feel better.

Secondly, KAB campaigns place the problem on individuals. As Phil would say, ‘Well that’s rich!‘ Four companies who make major profit by selling disposable packaging and products (the makings of litter) convince all of America that the soda bottles, beer cans, and cigarette butts lying across America are your problem. These companies sell convenience and blame you when the disposable packaging is still lying around. And then pat themselves on the back for telling you to be a good person and put it in landfills funded by your tax dollars (what forward thinking!).

A KAB photo from  Live Green Festival.

A KAB photo from Live Green Festival.

Though KAB still feels passionately about litter (check out their inspiring photo above from a Live Green Festival), they have expanded their mission. Their newest campaign is all about the newer and sexier way we distract ourselves from everything we throw away: recycling.

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This entry was written by Margaret and published on November 29, 2013 at 10:18 pm. It’s filed under Non-profits, Recycling and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

4 thoughts on “Keep America Blissful

  1. Uncle Chris on said:

    Has KAB already called with its apology and recommendation that you remove this scathing essay from public view?

  2. I too am shocked that KAB does not check The Trash Blog daily.

  3. Margaret, we, in the Communications Dept. at Keep America Beautiful and other staff members, have read this post and would like to have a deeper discussion with you about the content. We apologize that you have made attempts to communicate with us and were unable to connect. Could you please send me your direct phone number? I will be certain to contact you in a timely fashion. Thank you.

    -Susan Parsons (All of my contact information is on the Contacts page at kab.org.)

  4. Pingback: Why Are We Recycling? | The Trash Blog

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