Dear Decaturish – Let’s clean up litter, just not all of it

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt June 6, 2016
A 95 gallon cart used to collect recycling for the city of Decatur. The city commission is considering several fee increases for trash collection services at its March 17 meeting.

A 95 gallon cart used to collect recycling for the city of Decatur.

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Dear Decaturish,

For many years I’ve spent a lot of time picking up litter in my neighborhood – discarded plastic bags, bottles, papers, cigarette butts and more. But sometimes I make the proactive decision to not pick up certain pieces of litter. Most typically these are large pieces that are in front of people’s homes, things that are obvious to anyone with two eyes. I do this as an experiment, to see if the individuals in those homes, or their neighbors, will notice the litter and pick it up.

After all, one person can’t be responsible for keeping a neighborhood litter free; we are all in it together. Others must play a part. There may be many events on a local, state, national and international level that we can’t control, but litter we can.

I wish I knew how my strategy is playing out. In some cases the litter is still there days later when I have to relent and pick it up. In other cases, the litter is gone. Is the litter gone because the residents of the home picked it up, a neighbor picked it up, a stranger, or has the litter been washed into the storm drain and created a water pollution problem?

In my ideal world, there is no litter in the first place. People do the right thing. They don’t throw their Burger King or Chick-fil-A bag on the ground. If they smoke they put their butt in a cigarette litter trash receptacle. And, in my slightly less than ideal world, any trash that is on the ground is picked up by the next person to see it and disposed of properly, whether into the garbage or a recycling bin.

That should be the case not only in our neighborhoods but in our public spaces. We should not wait for government workers on their regular rounds to pick up the litter thoughtless people throw down. As much as we are able, we should all help.

There is one bright spot on the horizon. Decatur’s City Commission has banned all smoking in public parks, public spaces and within 20 feet of any exterior seating or service area of any restaurant in the city effective as of July 1. In addition to the health benefits of this action, it will hopefully dramatically reduce the cigarette litter created by thoughtless smokers.

– Richard Cohen

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