Commentary: It’s time to can our litter problem

As the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission has been in the news recently regarding the use of their funding and various disputes with allied organizations, perhaps a good thing to come out of this is a focus on the problem of litter in our community.

While driving back from the Bass Pro Shop on Bass Road, I noticed that the grass around the acceleration lane to merge onto I-75 southbound was nothing but a heap of trash. As I continued down the highway on that windy night, bits of paper debris of various sizes would be kicked up in a way that was reminiscent of the asteroid field scene from Star Wars. Now sensitized to the trash, I spotted it everywhere along the roadside all the way home.

Trash in Macon
Scenes similar to this stock image can be seen all around Macon. It’s time to start combating it.

One does not have to think too long on why our roads look this way. On the drive home today, I was behind a pickup truck at a red light and before the light turned green, the driver flicked a cigarette out of the window like the world was his ashtray. I took a photo of his truck and license plate and my dash camera caught the entire thing. A side of me wanted to embarrass this willful jerk, but it would serve too little good and is more along the lines of something we get from the negative media outlets in the city. Instead, I want to appeal to reason.

Litter pollutes our roads and yards because too many have stopped caring about our community. Years of negativity have beaten us down into thinking the city is not worth the trouble to find a trash can or just hold a wrapper until later. It’s an easy habit to get into when you think no one else cares.

It’s time to stop putting up with littering and start acting. If you find yourself with an inconvenient piece of trash, don’t succumb to the temptation of chucking it out a window or tossing it in a bush. Instead imagine you are someone else throwing trash into your own yard. Would you find that acceptable? Are you upset when it happens to you?

If you are with someone who thinks it is okay to litter, tell them that you do not like it and that they should throw their trash away properly. When people think others care, they will be less likely to do it, at least in front of other people. Failing that, offer to throw it away for them.

When you see litter, do your best to clean it up. A clean space is less likely to attract litter, but a place covered with garbage is an inviting target because it is clear people do not care. Keep your own yard clean, help neighbors keep their yards clean and pick up trash when you see it in parks and around town. Just picking up one piece of trash a day will amount to a lot over the course of time, especially with enough people doing it.

If you are a group looking for volunteer activities, why not help do a roadside pickup or one at a local park? That trash builds up over time and an occasional group cleanup event might just keep them clean enough to discourage more litter.

Call your city government representatives and demand that the issue be taken seriously. It is a lot less expensive to maintain sufficient refuse containers than to clean up litter that has been scattered to the four winds. Trash bins in parks need to be emptied before they become land-fills. People holding events need to be charged heavy fines for not cleaning up after themselves.

Businesses should be required to keep their lots clean and provide adequate garbage receptacles for their customers and visitors. All too often I have seen restaurants and stores with filled garbage bins overflowing into the parking lot or walkways. This is unacceptable, and it makes one wonder what other corners these businesses are cutting. I am not suggesting they keep a dumpster available, just receptacles for normal and customary trash generated on-site or commonly carried by pedestrians.

Eventually, if Macon grows accustomed to a clean environment, it will become easier to keep our streets and parks clean, and cleanliness will become expected. Not every city has a litter problem and we do not have to have one either.

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