I've written on my blog before about my practice of picking up litter when I walk around my town. It's a simple way to do something useful. I focus primarily on cans and plastic and glass bottles because I want to make sure that they get into the recycling containers rather than the main garbage stream. I'm especially concerned about glass bottles because they can be broken and thus do serious damage, but I hate seeing beer cans lying around the streets of my town (it makes a bad impression and seems so . . . low brow), and the number of plastic bottles is astonishing. I always think of that Texas-sized plastic island of garbage (oops; just looked it up; it's now twice the size of Texas) that's floating out in the ocean somewhere. I don't want to see that become even larger.
Anyway, my husband and I were out walking last Saturday (it was my birthday), and we encountered the usual array and picked up a few things as we went. He noted that if people aren't even respectful enough of their environment to realize that when they leave their bottle or can in the street or on the grass or sidewalk, they're polluting, then what hope do we have to address something as huge as global warming. That's the surface of the earth where they're abandoning their trash, but for some reason it seems just fine to them to simply drop or throw whatever they're carrying and go forth. How can we expect people to make the big, hard sacrifices they will have to make to solve the big problems if they can't do something so small as put their item in an appropriate receptacle?
This discussion got me into thinking that I needed to get more intentional about my litter walks again. That is, I used to carry bags with me (one for recyclables, one for regular garbage) and then take the booty home to my own receptacles. But for the past few months, who knows why, I haven't been taking the bags, but just pick things up and drop them in other people's receptacles as I go. Sometimes this limits me because I can only carry a few things in my hands at once, so I have to leave some things behind.
This week, then, I started with the bags again. There's an unusually large amount of stuff lying around. I think it's because the big snow has now melted, revealing the multiple layers of leavings and droppings. And as I was walking, and picking, I realized what an excellent workout this is. First of all, as the baseline, there's the walking, which I do briskly. Second, there's the mental and visual acuity involved in spotting the items. Third, there's the quick pivots needed to cross the street or duck down an alley or veer over toward the bushes or whatever to nab the item. Then, there's the bending and the reaching (across a puddle, snow bank, or dog droppings) and (sometimes) the stretching (if something is under a bush or in some other hard-to-reach place). Then there's the memory factor when I don't have the bags--that is, keeping track of where the closest recycling bin is or isn't. Finally (this might not really be the final benefit; I might think of more, or you might), there is the benefit of mental fitness that comes from the meditation on the earth and the people who live on it and how they do or do not care for it and why they do or do not. Try it. Soon you too may look like Jane Fonda with her red leg warmers. As with so many other problems, perhaps appealing to self-interest is the way to a solution.