On a rare, warm, dry day this spring, I ventured out onto the Shiawassee River in my kayak to take in the fresh air, the sunshine, you know – Mother Nature in all her glory.
Turtles basking in the sunshine, mother geese teaching their babies the ways of the world, flowers blooming, an empty pop bottle … wait. What?
Not far from the bottle, I saw its cap, and candy wrappers, and various pieces of trash. As I traveled along the river, I realized that more than one wayward snacker had thought the old Shiawassee was a fine place to toss their garbage.
I get the logic: “this is, like, dirty, and I don’t want to get my kayak (boat, etc.) all junked up.”
Tossing trash just adds a little visual interest to the landscape. I promise, you’ve never seen anything cuter than a bird walking around with an empty Chips Ahoy! package in its beak.
The amazing thing is, I was kayaking just days after the Friends of the Shiawassee River held their annual cleanup. A group of volunteers travelled the river, picking up garbage.
What were the do-gooders thinking? What if Shiawassee is actually a Prussian word meaning, “Mother Nature’s trash can?”
Then, I remembered the other bodies of water I’d kayaked, also lined with litter. The fact is, there is litter everywhere, which is why there’s a County Jail work detail dedicated to picking up the trash that lines sections of US 23.
According to the Keep America Beautiful organization, there are approximately 51.2 billion pieces of litter on America’s roadways. You may suppose that a good percentage of that litter is accidental – the stuff that falls off of garbage trucks, out of trashcans along the street, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, according to Keep America Beautiful, at least 81 percent of the litter filling our roads, parking lots and waterways is intentional.
Litter does a lot more than junk up the landscape. The costs are very real. If you want to boil it down to dollars and cents, we spend 11.5 billion dollars every year cleaning up litter.
This is not just about making everything look all nice and pretty. The reality is, litter kills vital plant and animal life. Nine billion tons of litter ends up in our oceans every year, which is ultimately linked to several species of sea life that are now on the endangered list.
The litter problem is not going away. In fact, according to Keep America Beautiful, the presence of litter is the reason 15 percent of litterers toss their trash with wild abandon. They figure, “it’s already a mess, anyway. What difference will my burrito wrapper make?”
This may help explain why, even with a growing number of volunteers on the job, it is nearly impossible to keep up with the litter in our world.
Fortunately, that is not stopping groups like the Friends of the Shiawassee, who will be on patrol again at the end of July. If you want to join them, you can check out their facebook page.
You can learn more about how to volunteer in other ways on the Keep America Beautiful website, KAB.org.