Monday, March 16, 2015

What would you do if you saw someone littering?

Although there’s so much litter in Lake County, I never actually see anyone throwing trash out a car window. I’m on the roads a fair amount. I know the trash is there because I see it all the time. What I don’t see is anyone making the mess.

Until yesterday.

I was taking my usual back roads home from town when I noticed a spiffed-up yellow sports car stopped in the middle of Fosgate Road alongside Grassy Lake Elementary School in Clermont. I had just turned off Turkey Farm Road onto Fosgate so the car was right in front of me. It was a quiet afternoon with no one else around, and since I wasn’t in a rush, I slowed down to see what was going on.

Upon my approach, two lanky, well-groomed teenage boys got out of the car and spoke to the driver before the car sped away leaving in its wake a large bag of trash. The kids, each one holding a soda in his hand, sauntered toward the sports fields behind the school with that ‘I-know-everything-there-is-to-know-about-everything’ air assumed by so many 14- and 15-year-old males. The paper sack, which obviously contained heavy objects like empty bottles and junk food detritus, stood out on the road like a looming brown wart.

I knew the bag of trash came from the car. After years of fretting over litter, picking up other peoples’ trash and writing repeatedly about my frustration with this seemingly insurmountable problem, I finally caught someone actually littering.

An opportunity had arrived to take action. But what should I do?

Several options sprung to mind: A) I could ignore the situation entirely and continue on my way. B) I could pull over to the side, get out of my car and pick up the trash to take home and throw out with my own garbage. C) I could confront the boys about their behavior.

I chose the third option. I know it can be dangerous to confront strangers who are breaking the law but the boys I saw didn’t look frightening. They reminded me of my own sons when they were that age, a bit cocky and maybe full of themselves, but not intimidating or threatening.

“Excuse me,” I called as I leaned across the seat, “is that your bag of trash in the middle of the road?”

The boys looked at each other incredulously before one of them managed to utter the single word, “No.”

“It came from that car though, didn’t it?”

Another look passed between the lads before the same boy who spoke before muttered, “Yes.”

“Well, pick it up,” I demanded, in my strongest ‘mom’ voice.

I told them to put the trash in a receptacle and tried to make them understand the irresponsibility of their actions and the effect littering has on the environment.

The boys did as I said. I’d be lying if I said they did it with any great enthusiasm or understanding but, nonetheless, they removed the bag from the road and hopefully deposited it in a nearby receptacle.

I’ve repeatedly wondered what kind of person litters. How can anybody be so thoughtless and unconcerned about the consequences of his behavior?

Even though I had just encountered a couple of teenagers littering, the problem is far too widespread to blame on any single group of people. However, in order to solve any problem, you have to start somewhere. Choosing to confront the two kids may not have been the smartest option to take in these dangerous times, but at least I acted. I spoke up and took a chance to make a difference.

The causes of littering include apathy, ignorance and a disconnection with the environment. Rolling down the window and speaking out is one way to say, ‘Enough!’ For me, it felt like the right decision, but it may not be the right choice for others. What would you have done?

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