A history of Litter:
Since the 1950s we have produced around 9 billion tons of disposable plastics, and it was in the mid-1950’s that people began to notice the litter start to increase. We had begun to notice the bits of trash accumulating on streets, road ways, and business areas slowly over time.. In fact The Times newspaper complained about ‘litter by the tonne’ as early as 1957. So where did this begin? It is believed that due to the boom of the domestic manufacturing industry and the mass manufacturing of plastics is when we started to develop more and more disposable goods, and as the word “disposable” implies we do not need to hold onto these trivial things. After all, because they are disposable we don’t need them, Right?
Today it is estimated that there are approximately 23.7 billion pieces of litter in the U.S. alone. Most of this litter consists of:
- Glass at 7.2%
- Metal at 7.9%
- Plastic at 12.7%
- Paper at 15.2%
- Candy and gum at 18.5%
- Tobacco litter represents 31.5%
( These statistics come from Keep America Beautiful and www.publicworks.cityofomaha.org)
So where does all of it go?
And according to the Time: There are 24 billion pieces of litter alongside highways, and 26 billion pieces of litter along waterways in 2020. We have even accumulated 5.25 trillion pieces in the oceans! There is even a giant island of garbage floating around in the pacific ocean the size of Texas.
This doesn’t just affect marine life and junk up our highways/roads. Many farmers have begun to complain that the accumulation of litter has started to affect their harvest and has even damaged their Machinery. But how?
Litter can easily get caught in plows, and other heavy machinery that helps them produce the crops, these repairs can become costly and time consuming. This can be very frustrating when you consider how time sensitive it can be to run a farm or ranch, and also how little funds farmers/ ranchers have. Many of them rely on a good harvest to support themselves, especially in small farming communities. Litter has also begun to get mixed into the soil of farm lands, this can also contaminate the yield of the harvest. Again, making farmers lose money. This even affects ranchers, as their cattle can mistakenly eat litter that is mixed into their feed, this can cause illnesses, injury, or even death.
The accumulation of garbage on streets and sidewalks have begun to wash down storm drains during heavy storms, this can cause blockages that can cause streets to overflow in small areas, or it can also be washed away into local lakes, rivers, and oceans and can pollute the water making the water unsuitable for drinking or recreation. This also poses an issue for wildlife, the contaminated water can make the wild life sick, or if they see a piece of litter they may mistake it for a piece of food and choke or get sick. The 6-pack plastic rings you see on soda cans have even been known to get caught around animals necks and mouths choking them.
I have even recently discovered that there is a new rule when you climb up to Mount Everest, one of the most popular destinations in the world, that people who visit will have to pay a $4,000 deposit! This will be refunded to the person only after they bring back eight kilograms (18 pounds) of garbage! That’s right, even Mount Everest isn’t even safe! National Geographic says that that is the amount of garbage one person can produce on a climb, and that ever since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit in 1953, over 4,000 people have followed in their footsteps, and hundreds more attempt the climb each season.
It’s hard to deny that our impact on the environment has been devastating, and while many of us don’t mean harm when we toss a receipt on the ground or toss a cigarette butt, it does build up. In fact, according to Keep America Beautiful most of the litter that builds up across America is 4 inches or longer.
So, what can be done?
We can start by reducing our litter. Use reusable bags and water bottles, and what disposable trash you do have to be sure to recycle at the proper places. Many stores such as Walmart have plastic bag recycling bins near the entrances and exits, we have recycling at Legion park and at the Safeway parking lot. Reuse what you have, find a use for those glass jam containers or give them to your local thrift store. We even have glass recycling in Kimball and Ogallala. And most importantly DON’T THROW YOUR GARBAGE OUT THE WINDOW! And as it can be harmful to the animals, be sure to cut 6-pack rings so no animals can get tangled in them. Be continuous with the litter you are producing, and keep an eye out for local cleanups or start one yourself. If you see garbage lying around pick it up yourself. But remember to stay safe. If something is toxic or flammable don’t put yourself in danger! Notify local authorities if you notice hazardous materials lying around or illegal dumping.
Lastly, to the reader, don’t feel guilty if you have thrown away something carelessly. We all make mistakes but we can all learn from our mistakes. I believe none of us mean to do harm but it is knowing the impact that we have, and acknowledging it’s not just one person but a collective.