The photo you see above is me in my idyllic days of litter collection. That photo was from the day I went out on a litter walk with a reporter from my local paper, and it was quite a jolly day. When the article came out, I had much response from people I knew as well as strangers who recognized me when they met me. One woman, I remember, said she liked that I didn't "judge people," by which she meant the people who left the litter that I then picked up. And to a certain extent, that was true. I didn't care so much about Them, though I did wonder a little bit what the deal was with Them. What I cared about more was doing something small that could help the world and also make me feel I'd done something constructive. Aside from the clean-up aspect of the effort, my goal was to get recyclables into their proper containers and get glass off the street so it couldn't harm anyone or their tires.
I have continued this practice, and when my husband walks with me, he helps out too, often spotting a "find" before I do, or a place to deposit it if we haven't taken a bag with us.The protocol for recycling is that the bottle or can has to be empty when it goes into the bin, and sometimes the bottles or cans I find are not empty, and so I empty them myself--into the gutter or some such, trying not to make too much of a mess. I myself do not drink soda or any of those other weird kinds of drinks that come in those bottles and cans, and sometimes it's hard for me to believe that people actually do drink them. Sometimes, if I'm feeling annoyed, I say to myself or my husband, "If they're going to buy this crap, and leave it by the wayside, they could at least drink the whole thing." Not the mellow, nonjudgmental litter lady of yore, you may be thinking.
Anyway, sometimes I come across a "find" that poses a particular challenge. For example, just yesterday, I spotted a can standing on the curb--I believe it was some kind of sparkling, flavored water--and it was unopened and entirely full. I could not for the life of me think what to do. I did not want to open the can and dump out the entire contents--thinking that perhaps a truly thirsty person might come by, see it, and actually be able to make use of it. So even though I had picked it up, I put it back down again. Another time--this was in the winter--I found a beer can that was mainly full, but the liquid was frozen into a kind of mush that I could not easily pour out. I had to let that one go as well. Sometimes people drink part of the drink, and then dump in a cigarette or two, so the liquid becomes a kind of nicotinic brew, which is particularly gross to dispose of. Today, however, I truly met my match. It was a bottle of that Lipton Ice Tea, and when I picked it up, I could see it had something in it that had to be discarded, so I opened it and tipped it over, and something really gross kind of oozed out. It looked a bit like a very thick, grainy Dijon mustard, and it struck me that this might actually be some form of human waste, and what was I to do now? I don't think it was human waste because (1) how could it get into that small-necked bottle? and (2) it didn't smell like human waste. Still, I did not know what to do with it--continue to dump it out? Drop it in a recycling bin without dumping it? No on both counts. What I did was set it down in a somewhat out-of-the-way spot. But I felt bad about it. And also mad.