Molly Templeton has started a how-to issue over at Tumblr, with lots of interesting submissions. This is mine.
1. Take a walk in your neighborhood, noting details of brickwork and construction and vegetation and people and weather.
2. Do this with as much regularity as possible, noting changes in items listed in number 1.
3. Remind yourself that whatever surface you are walking on (sidewalk or dirt path or grassy field or blacktop), this is basically the surface of the Earth.
4. Notice the litter—in particular, recyclables, such as plastic and glass bottles and beverage cans. Once you start noticing, you will see it everywhere, along with the cigarette packs and gum packs and candy wrappers and empty bags and Styrofoam carryout containers.
5. Start to carry a bag with you on your walk because once you have begun to notice, you will start to feel that you could do something about this mess, and the thing you will do is pick up the litter, put it in your bag, and take it home with you or to the closest recycling bin.
6. If you are ambitious, you can carry two bags—one for recyclables and one for everything else.
7. Try not to be judgmental about the crude morons who think the world is their garbage can or who have not yet realized that they are moving on the surface of the Earth. If you are a writer or a reader who is interested in complex characters, you can try to understand them, why they would discard their trash here and there and everywhere.
8. Once you have gotten into the habit of litter collection, start to notice the seasonal patterns—candy wrappers around Halloween, firework leftovers around the Fourth of July, and so on. Also develop a ranking system—e.g., glass bottles are among the highest-quality finds, as when you remove those from the street, you eliminate the possibility of broken glass, damaged tires, cuts in human flesh. Indulge your imagination—e.g., imagine squished plastic bottles and plastic bags as jellyfish washed up on some ancient seabed. Ask yourself why we are such hungry, thirsty, and basically oral people (so much eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing going on all the time).
9. Don’t feel obliged to pick up everything you see—nothing gross, or as a friend of mine says, “nothing wet.”10. Note: Once you have adopted these practices, you will see litter pretty much wherever you go. You will not always have a bag , nor will you have ready access to trash or recycling bins, and this may make you feel uncomfortable. Adopt some calming mantra, such as “The litter lady is getting perturbed.” Carry on. You are doing the best you can.