A recent facebook conversation from Rhode Island caught my eye. Apparently, a lot of trash was left on the streets after a parade and when an environmental organization posted a picture of the mess, it started a flurry of comments about who was to blame.
The organizers said that their volunteers where up till 2 AM raking the mess into the street and that the street sweeper they contracted didn’t show up. Many people said the City should have cleaned it up. Others bemoaned Americans’ general tendency to litter.
If we’re going to start the blame game, it probably should begin with people who drop their empty water bottles on the ground. It moves on to the folks who see a garbage can already overflowing with trash and then go ahead and add their own little offering to the dripping altar. It’s pretty easy to point at people who drop their garbage on the streets and expect others to pick it up. Piling our garbage in a landfill is the same action, just on a different order of magnitude. We produce a mixed up mess of things we don’t want and look for a place to dump them all so they don’t have to be our problem.
We have grown accustomed to the idea that garbage is not our problem. When we buy a meal and it comes wrapped in disposable packaging or a coffee that is handed to us in a paper cup, our expectation is that someone else will deal with these tailings, though they come at the demand of our convenience.
Dumping your trash on the sidewalk is not so different an attitude than demanding a waterproof, insulated paper cup with every drink. Think about the resources that are required to produce the paper cup: logged trees milled and bleached into paper and coated with low-density polyethelene plastic and shipped at least halfway across the country. All this effort so that we can drop the cup into a trash can.
Blaming companies that produce disposable items
While we are at it, let’s blame nature, or evolution, or reality or something for not producing human beings who have webbed fingers that form the perfect vessel for carrying around any beverage. This would have dispensed with the need for disposable cups.
Okay, so blame doesn’t get us very far. What other response is there? From childhood we are taught to despise the people who don’t clean up after themselves. It seems to me this mindset of personal responsibility has only managed to develop our aptitude for subterfuge. How else could it be that we aren’t startled at the very idea of a mountain of plastic coated paper cups–picked up, in the street, or in a trash can–being hauled off to be buried in the ground somewhere?
That we have convinced ourselves that such a funeral erases our responsibility for enjoying the convenience of disposability is subterfuge at its finest.