Interviewed! …About Litter

So, with all this talk around here of launching a Kickstarter campaign on Sunday (that is, yesterday), how is it going so far? If you’ve tried to find it, you’ve no doubt been unsuccessful, and that’s entirely our fault. You see, the very last step in the process turns out to be a bank account verification at our end… which takes “5-7 days”. Apparently Amazon Payments needs to send courier hamsters to our bank or something, and as such it will take longer for us to launch than anticipated. It doesn’t help that we discovered this on the evening of a Friday before a weekend before a bank holiday, so the fastest we’ll be able to receive those two few-cent test deposits will be tomorrow. Until then, that little “launch” button on our page is greyed-out and unclickable, and we’re left waiting. [UPDATE! Project has launched, so check it out!]

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, by the way. It seems like a good day for some community service, so I was going to walk along the currently-empty irrigation canal here in Bridger and pick up litter, but it’s snowing at present, so I might defer that to another day. The snow isn’t exactly the limiting factor in that it’s cold or unpleasant, but the fact that it’s covering and obscuring the litter I’d like to pick up makes it rather inconvenient.

Speaking of litter, if you’ve browsed around the site toward the 101 in 1001 project, or looked back far enough in this journal, you may have noticed that litter-picking-up is something of a personal initiative of mine. I haven’t been doing as much of it lately (mostly as a consequence of being outside less with the cold weather), but several months ago, I received an e-mail from a university student who wanted to “interview” me via e-mail about it. Here’s my answers to the questions he sent me:

What made you start picking up your 1001 pieces of litter? I had actually been in the habit of picking up litter or several years prior to actually starting my "101 things in 1001 days" list a couple years ago. I don’t remember precisely when it was, but at some point I reached a sort of "tipping point"– I got tired not just of seeing litter, but got tired of thinking that "someone" should do something about it, so I decided to take some action myself. It basically comes down to the Gandhi saying: "You must be the change you want to see in the world."

Do you still occasionally pick up litter?  I pick up something nearly every day. Today I think I picked up six bits of trash as I was walking around, and my current [as of April 5th, 2011] "litter count" is up to a little over 2,040 bits of trash since I started my 1,001 day list in June 2009. Two thousand pieces doesn’t seem like much really, when I think about the bags of trash that can be gathered along a stretch of interstate, but all of the litter I’ve picked up these last couple years has been casually collected while walking, hiking, or generally doing something else. I guess I’ve opted to focus on the "detail" litter that’s more easily ignored– to get it before it accumulates, or just blows away or gets washed down a storm drain to somewhere else.

What was the most ridiculous thing you have seen littered?  Most of the things I pick up, regardless of where I am, seem to be linked to food or beverages, like a drink cup, or a hamburger wrapper.  One of the more unique items I found was the packaging for an electronic whoopee cushion (not the cushion itself, which would perhaps have been more interesting). I found a soggy cellphone up Hyalite once, but that was probably lost, rather than deliberately discarded. A few weeks ago I found someone’s Dungeons & Dragons character sheet, which was also more likely accidental than deliberate. The character’s name was Otto, a level 8 bard, who was armed, surprisingly, with a pair of revolvers. It always been ridiculous to me that beer cans are so often consistently tossed onto the ground half full– it seems like a special kind of wanton waste to discard not only a container, but a half full container. The tragically ridiculous are the cases where someone just clearly kicked the trash out of the bottom of their car into the parking lot.

What is something that you would like to tell people about littering?  As littering goes, the thing I tell people is to not do it. Things stick around– I’ve picked up beer cans in the woods that are likely older than me. I suppose the cynical argument is that even things properly thrown away in a trash can become municipally-sanctioned litter as they’re crushed and buried in a landfill, but that just underscores the importance of using less, reusing, and recycling. Litter bothers me, but not strictly for aesthetic reasons: it bothers me because it is a symptom that someone doesn’t care. Picking up that litter is my way of saying, "but there is hope, because I care." As for something I’d like to tell people about picking up litter: don’t be scared of it. It is not inherently "icky" just because it is on the ground. A dry ATM receipt on the sidewalk will not give you cooties– that plastic grocery sack might have a little morning dew on it, but it’s not going to give you some sort of horrific skin fungus previously unknown to medical science. I think we have a societal notion that picking up trash is sort of taboo– that it is unclean work left to sanitation workers, convicts, and community service-minded youth groups. Sometimes people discard gross things, but being discarded doesn’t automatically make it a gross thing.

Have you been able to get others to join in picking up litter?  I’m not sure if I have, to be honest. I know my fiancé will pick things up with me when we’re out for walks, but I’ve never been particularly evangelical about it to people, aside from the periodic mentions on the website. I try not to be too preachy about it, because I feel like being pushy just makes people close themselves up, but there is a part of me that hopes that people who see me picking something up might think to do the same. Earth Day is coming up, though, so perhaps I’ll try to actually organize some sort of event… even it’s an informal one with a few friends. I really should "market" the notion a little more, rather than just hoping someone is anonymously inspired. Still, I saw someone about a month ago on my usual walk-to-campus route swing out of their way to pick up a piece of trash, which was a first for me. It was nice to see someone else do it too, whether or not it had anything to do with me.  

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