How Do We 'Fix' Our Litter Problem?

A recent article introduced the question, "How Can Louisiana Fix Its Litter Problem?" In the wake of increased and more enforced fines throughout the state for littering, many people wonder if it would even have an impact.

If people shirk personal responsibility by choosing not to pick up after themselves, would an extra $75 fine make any difference?

Keep Louisiana Beautiful Executive Director Susan Russell says the state spends $40 million a year on litter abatement and education. As she explains, and as I've stated before, the impact of litter is not just a surface problem. Litter impacts waterways and wildlife, both of which are ingrained in our culture and heritage.

$40 million a year to clean up our state's litter and educate residents on not littering. And look at how much litter is still on our roads, in our yards and in our waterways. Is it working?

In the article, Susan explains her solution to our litter problem:
  • Education
  • Enforcement
  • Proper resources
  • Personal responsibility.

Education helps children to start recycling at a younger age, and building that sense of responsibility in them. I learned young, and the principle stayed with me over time. Amelie is a Lafayette six-year-old who already understands the concept of keeping our planet and community clean.

Does enforcement work? People regularly break every single law we have. I love the idea of fining those who litter, but I don't think it will ultimately cause lasting change and reduce the amount of litter in Louisiana.

Funding and budgets aside, one of our greatest resources in the fight against litter are the public initiatives and dedicated volunteers. There are so many organizations in our state that are focused on cleaning up the litter on our roads, in our waterways and in nature. While they are staffed, those organizations and initiatives continue because of volunteer efforts. See: that pesky funding issue.

Volunteers came together for Project Front Yard's Trash Bash in early May. Volunteers walked a five-mile parade route to pick up beer bottles, Mardi Gras beads and roadkill for the Krewe of Rio parade. And those are just two examples of what happens at least every weekend.

Although there are tons of opportunities and some dedicated volunteers, the real solution to litter, I think, is personal responsibility.

Take care of your own litter. 

It's that simple. And yes, it is SIMPLE. Although volunteers care enough to donate their time to picking up other people's trash (Michelle and I certainly ...enjoyed picking up hundreds of condoms for the Trash Bash), it shouldn't be up to someone else. Don't carelessly throw yourself on the ground, expecting or relying on someone to come along behind you and pick up after you. Pick it up yoself. Or don't drop it in the first place.

I realize that for the most part, I am preaching to the choir. But through my years of writing this blog, it's one thing I've really stayed passionate about - the way to combat litter is to simply not litter.

Why should you not litter?
  • Streets and waterways are cleaner
  • Our wildlife won't get sick from litter
  • Trash goes where it belongs - in a trash can or recycling bin...or donated to someone who may still be able to use it
  • You won't have to worry about getting fined
  • The state will save money on having to educate errybody on not littering
  • You won't be an ignorant a-hole (Yep, I said it.)

The problem is conveying this concept, and getting more people to care. For lack of a more eloquent phrase, we need to get more people to give a shit. Because they should. If only everyone could practice the concept of being responsible for their own trash. 

I wrote about this extensively around Mardi Gras, when our culture basically brushes off the fact of litter. Why are float riders instructed to simply throw their trash over the side before rolling out? Why is that okay? Why is the effort not there to be responsible and throw trash into a trash can or recycling bin? It chapped my ass this year, I tell you. When I was picking up float trash before the parade and literally had a float rider throw a beer over the side that splashed all up in my hair. Ignorant.

How do we get people to take personal responsibility for their own Coke bottle, or Raising Cane's bag, or beer bottle, or apple core? WE know that you just don't throw it out of your car window, or literally drop it as you're walking along. The goal is to get the non-treehuggers, the non shit-givers, the litterers to at least care enough to throw trash away in a trash can. And on a bigger scale, to care enough to instruct others to be responsible as well. If only a fine would cause people to care.


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