Monday, November 10, 2014

Talking trash

The first of November was a windy day not just in Central Florida, but also throughout much of the Eastern half of the country. A few days after the gusts abated, my daughter Jenny called from her home in western Massachusetts. to share a comment made by our 3-year-old granddaughter.

“Maya was looking out the window as the wind was blowing the leaves all around,” Jenny explained. “She said, ‘Look, Mama, the leaves are flying.’”

I love hearing my grandchildren’s comments and seeing the world through their unfiltered eyes. The thought of autumn leaves flying is both whimsical and true, yet hearing those words filled me with sadness. On the same day that Maya was watching the swirl of leaves from the living room window, I was in my car watching a flurry of plastic bags, Styrofoam cups and assorted other man-made detritus fly across the road as I drove home from Winter Garden.

While we were both looking at windswept landscapes, one saw beauty while the other saw ugliness.

Surrounded by leaves, not litter, Maya and Ella enjoy autumn at their home in Western Massachusetts

Why are the people who live in a state so rich in natural wonders willing to despoil it so thoughtlessly? What makes us so shortsighted and incapable of seeing the effects of our unconcern and carelessness?

The windstorm emphasized that Floridians are near the bottom of the class when it comes to environmental awareness and education. One need only step outside to see proof of our obliviousness. Look down on the ground anywhere within 50 feet of a house, and you will inevitably see some form of garbage. It may be bits and pieces of paper or plastic or, since Halloween just passed, torn-off corners of candy wrappers.

A collection of yard trash left behind by a thoughtless tenant

It’s even worse from a car. Look out the window when you stop at any traffic light or stop sign and you’ll inevitably stare at a pile of cigarette butts clustered along the curb. 

An all too common sight along Florida roads

People who live and drive through the Sunshine State seem just as unconcerned about tossing toxic, non-biodegradable cigarette butts out their window as they are about throwing fast food containers on the ground. To those of us who care about the state of our environment, this lack of concern by others is both infuriating and frustrating.

Sign posted by the U.S. Forest Service in the Los Padres National Forest.

I like to think of myself as a good problem solver. When given a situation that needs fixing, I can usually come up with a solution. But littering has me stumped. For years I’ve tried every tack I can think of to help raise public awareness as well as invoking a hands-on approach to going after the problem personally. I’ve written articles. I’ve picked up trash in public places. I’ve spoken with homeowners individually and approached the county to request No Littering signs. Once, I even confronted a police officer after I saw him throw a cigarette butt out the window of his cruiser.

A cigarette butt tossed out of a car window is an all too common sight

The articles generated support from people already aware and equally as frustrated as I am by the problem of litter. I watched new garbage appear shortly after I picked trash up in public places. The homeowners I spoke with listened, but I doubt if they really heard what I was saying since nothing changed in their yards. The signs were a bust. They failed to prevent drivers from tossing throwaway items from car windows. And the police officer I confronted? He merely stared at me through his mirrored sunglasses and didn’t comment one way or another.

I think of my twin granddaughters growing up in their Massachusetts home where the consciousness of the public about environmental matters is on a much higher plane than in Florida. While the town where Jenny’s family lives isn’t perfect, the people there do seem more aware of cause and effect than do people here.

Is it too late for Florida? I’d like to believe not. But something has to change or our throw-away mindset will continue to destroy the beauty of a state we love.

Clermont resident Roger Butts takes it upon himself to clean up other's trash along county roadsides.  While help from local citizens is commendable, there's too much trash in the Sunshine State to be dealt with by people like Butts alone.  

If you would like to do something about the litter problem in Florida, below are are few links and phone numbers will help:

Florida's Adopt-A-Road program is a way for individuals, businesses and civic groups to keep a portion of a roadway clean.  More information and contact info for each Florida county is available on the website 

To report litter in Orlando: for litter in public right of ways, calls streets and storm water division at: 407-246-2238

For litter on private property, call code enforcement division at: 407-246-4444.

Elsewhere in FL, from a cell phone dial #DEP or 877-272-8335 from a landline

In each instance, they'd like to know the vehicle tag number and description, as well as what was dumped, when and where.

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