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Trash Talk

Fri, Apr 13th, 2001
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Monday, April 16, 2001

I went for a walk with my two kids a few Sundays ago.

The sky was wonderfully blue, the sun warm and we knew that the last vestiges of winter would soon be gone.

We crossed the road to our neighbor’s woods and slid down the snowy north slopes in our boots. We felt like we were in Aspen or Colorado Springs, plowing through the brilliant snow and catching a tan at the same time.

We ended our hike near the intersection of Highway 52 and County Road 12, less than a half mile from our house.

As we walked down the hill toward our place, we noticed the trash in the road ditch and decided to clean it up.

So, armed with four 33 gallon garbage bags, the three of us worked our way west, back up the hill.

The snow melt cascaded into small torrents of runoff, transforming the ditch into a miniature white water rapids.

I worked the bottom of the ravine, slopping through the ooze and grime in my rubber boots. My son and daughter worked further up the hillside.

At first, the going was easy as we made steady progress. But after a short while the density of trash started slowing us down.

Mountain Dew cans. Cafe Karuba styrofoam cups. Plastic hubcaps. Burger King wrappers. Budweiser cans. An assortment of bottles and jars. Plastic bags. Subway litter. Busch Light cans. A soiled baby diaper. A used sanitary napkin.

I suppose an anthropologist would make something out of all of this, ours being a throw-away society and all.

About half-way up the hill we had filled our first bag, and left it by the roadside to pick up on our return.

The amount of trash increased the closer we got to Highway 52. It took us about two hours to cover both sides of the .2 miles from our farm to the intersection of the highway. After we filled our four bags, my son went back for two more.

It cost me $3.90 to dump the 80 pounds of trash at the Resource Recovery Center the following Monday. Two tenths of a mile; 80 pounds. That translates into 400 lbs. of trash per mile. If you apply that across the more than 400 miles of road in our county, then there is something like 160,000 pounds of trash laying in our ditches.

Think about it. Someone knowingly throws that crap out their car window.

When I was a kid, we use to take our wagon and go through the neighborhood collecting bottles to redeem at the store. That was a sure way of getting candy or an ice cream cone.

Several states still have bottle laws, where a surcharge is added to the cost of the beverage and redeemed when the empty container is turned in for recycling. Maine, Iowa, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon all charge 5˘; Michigan adds 10˘ to each container.

Instead of having a bottle-law, Minnesota sends out a battalion of volunteers to clean up its road ditches. Now in its eleventh year, Adopt-A-Highway has 4,800 community organizations collecting litter along 10,000 miles of highway.

I wonder if this somehow encourages littering, knowing that someone is going to pick up after you.

It was at the first Earth Day in in 1970 that we learned that littering wasn’t cool. People throughout the nation picked up trash, cleaned up dumps, hauled debris out of rivers, planted trees and had a general fun time doing it.

What started out as a walk through the woods on a Sunday with my kids turned into a trash pick-up exercise in road ditches near our house.

We started out somehow ennobled to be cleaning up our environment. By the end, quite frankly, we were disgusted.

By John Torgrimson

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