Helping more people give a hoot about litter

The other night, a friend of mine made an unexpected stop in his way home from work.

It was late, and he was driving up “the brick road” into Belmont — the same road community members cleaned up just a few weeks ago. He stopped his vehicle and backed up because he had driven past a fast food bag filled with trash. He told me he picked it up and took it home to deposit in his own garbage can.

I really appreciate that he did that. Litter is a pet peeve of mine, and I had complained about the state of that road – known as John Street within the village limits and as Palmer Road in Goshen Township – in this column a couple of weeks before the community cleanup was organized. More than 20 village residents turned out to help remove nearly 50 bags full of debris from a section of that roadway.

The very next day, however, a stray cup or two appeared on the sides of the road. A bit more litter has accumulated in that area since.

What makes people think it is OK to toss their garbage out randomly all over the world?

When I was very small, a striking television commercial promoted ecology and environmental awareness. It featured an actor, Iron Eyes Cody, posing as a Native American paddling a canoe up a river filled with floating garbage as tribal-sounding music played in the background. He passed factories that billowed smoke into the air. As he landed on the shore, trash was scattered about his feet.

The ad climaxed as a passing motorist flung a bag out of a car window that landed at the star’s feet, exploding and dumping more garbage all around him. As the camera panned upward, the audience could see a single tear on the cheek of the “Crying Indian,” as the character came to be known.

The message that followed was: “People start pollution, people can stop it.”

Those words are simple and true. If people dispose of trash properly, it won’t clutter our roadsides, streams, pastures and forests. Industrial pollution is another, more complicated matter, but we need to start somewhere — and reducing the amount of litter in the local area is a realistic goal.

Perhaps being exposed to messages like the one in that commercial at a young age is the reason I feel so strongly about the issue. A good deal of fuss has been made over the fact that the actor in that ad was not Native American at all. He was of Italian descent, and he wasn’t really crying – glycerin was used to create his “teardrop.” But actors portray characters in all sorts of programs, movies and advertisements. Focusing on the authenticity of Iron Eyes Cody is simply a distraction from the important message the ad tried to convey.

In addition to that commercial, I remember Woodsy Owl, the cartoon character who represented the U.S. Forest Service and was known for the catch phrase “Give a Hoot! Don’t Pollute!”

How do we get such messages across today?

Perhaps area communities should partner with the businesses that produce the products that lead to the most litter. For example, it is fairly apparent that the trash littering Belmont’s brick road is coming mainly from stores and restaurants at Interstate 70’s exit 208. Many of the bags, cups and boxes lying on the sides of the road feature the logos of those establishments.

Maybe Belmont and other nearby communities that see trash from these businesses should approach the owners or managers about posting anti-litter messages in their parking lots and driveways. If a customer saw a sign that said something like, “Give a Hoot! Don’t Pollute!” perhaps they would think twice about tossing their empty drink cup out the window.

It could be that signs reminding people of the penalties for littering might have some impact. Or, maybe one or more of those businesses would sponsor waste receptacles to be placed in areas where litter really piles up.

Obviously I don’t know all the solutions to this problem, but I believe they must be out there.

In the meantime, I urge all of you to help me spread the word that litter is harming our region. I have heard from more than one person working in natural gas and oil development that the amount of litter seen in our area is off-putting to foreign investors. It is also damaging to the tourism industry, which touts the natural beauty of the Ohio Valley.

The more we talk to others about these issues, the more likely it is that we will make at least a small difference.

Speaking of tidying things up, JB Green Team is again offering a series of cleanup events in Belmont and Jefferson counties. In addition to regular collection events for household items, the organization is offering electronics collections and at least one hazardous waste collection for materials such as old paint and chemicals.

Keep an eye on our pages for information about these events, or visit jbgreenteam.org to learn more.

COMMENTS