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Archive for April 5th, 2010

A friend on facebook named Tammy responded to yesterday’s post:

“While I agree with 100% that it is disgusting the amount of litter and cigarette butts are found along the side of the roads….I 100% disagree with you that the fast food companies, chip manufacturers or tobacco companies should have to pay any sort of surcharge on their packaging.

McDonald’s (nor it’s shareholders) should be held responsible because lazy ass people who happen to purchase their product decided to throw the wrapper on the ground. Same goes for Wise, or Hershey’s or Marlboro. It’s the lazy consumer who is at fault. Why should I have to pay an additional fee (because you know those companies will only pass that added cost on to the consumer) because some lazy ass other consumer is just that – a lazy ass?

This policy would punish me, a conscientious consumer, who does not litter….and that would be fundamentaly wrong. Instead, in addition to helping out by picking up stuff, why not ostracize those you see doing the littering. I do it all the time. :)”

A second friend, Bobby, kicked in with this:

“it does my heart good to know that some people still understand capitalism, and that any new tax, fee, or cost of any kind will be directly passed along to the consumer. I’m for raising the littering fines drastically, and making the lazy asses pay.”

To tell the truth (a theme that runs through several threads of life right now), I didn’t immediately have a reply. I understand being conscientious. I was taught early on that I am responsible for my body, my family, and my surroundings. I am in charge of keeping them all clean and safe. I also understand the importance of thrift and economy. I don’t want to pay any more than I already am at the grocery counter, gas station, or to Uncle Sam.

Given my undecided stance, I proceeded out again to let the litter do the talking. I headed up the west side of Brandt Place hill and started my picking just south of the McNulty sidewalk. Again, I faced the torrent of casually tossed wrappers, cups and bottles popping from the wintered weeds like brightly colored Easter eggs in assorted reds, greens, bursts of yellow, orange, cobalt and cerulean blue. There were shimmering metallic bags, faded plastic bottles, snow white Styrofoam cups and their brittle lids, and shorn bits of plastic bags. I stood every few minutes to scan where I’d been and what still needed tending, unable to control a heavy sigh of disdain every time. This is a massive, unrelenting problem.

While I scavenged through the brambles, I thought about the necessity to sculpt the attitude of our youth that they too might disparage this behavior. I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s. We were taught that pollution was ugly. Our slovenly ways made the iconic Iron Eyes Cody cry and we were ashamed. Earth Day was something we all wanted to be involved in. We knew we could make a difference. It’s ironic that this lesson has not persisted or apparently has not been passed on.

I thought about Tammy’s insistence that this is the responsibility of the lazy consumer. I absolutely agree. They deserve our contempt. These criminals (because the desiccation of our community is truly a crime) should be held accountable, but herein lies the problem: littering is inherently anonymous. It is a discarded snickers wrapper on the way home from fifth grade, the flick of a smoker’s wrist, or an intentionally jettisoned soda, beer or vodka bottle on a side road. It is thoughtless and casual. One rarely witnesses it. The highest fines in the world won’t stop this; it’s a closely guarded secret. Who do we ostracize?

I repeatedly thought about Tammy and Bobby, because I was becoming more and more sure that this evil must be sliced out at the root. With every handful of waste, I thought about how many times a day we are assaulted by advertisements for McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, and KFC. You can’t watch Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel without being bombarded with commercials for juices, snacks, candy, and (let’s face it) crap.

These companies are spending unbelievably astronomical amounts on manipulating us and it’s working! After today’s pleasantries, I’d much rather see them half their air time and invest that money into finding the solutions to this crisis: give money to municipalities for cleanup efforts and develop rapidly degrading packaging.

We’re not talking mom and pop shops here. Tobacco and the “convenience food business” are enormously profitable, global concerns. Altria (the $43B dollar parent company to Phillip Morris & US Smokeless Tobacco Company) realized $3.21B dollars in profit last year. Sales went UP 7% in 2009, despite selling fewer cigars and cigarettes. Pepsico (also a $43B dollar industry giant) touts it’s “healthy, convenient and fun nourishment” portfolio that includes the $12B Frito-Lay lines (Fritos, Cheetos, Doritos, Tostitos, Lays – OMG, the number of bags I’ve ferreted out of the weeds) as well as a variety of drink choices (including Pepsi, Gatorade, and Tropicana). Interestingly, Pepsico recently announced its intent to promote higher rates of beverage container recycling in the U.S. Specifically PepsiCo said it intends to create partnerships that promote the increase of U.S. beverage container recycling rates to 50 percent by 2018. Let’s hope they chop the cost of this effort out of their profits and not our pockets. Big daddy Coca-Cola boasted of $48B in assets and $7B in profit for the year 2009. McDonalds serves a whopping 60 million people A DAY and made $5B in profits last year. As a mayor struggling to come up with $1.2M to continue to provide necessary services to my constituents, the amount of money spent on bubbly and sweet salty snacks almost makes me ill.

And sick we should all be, as the tasty treats we are imbibing in are not only killing the environment, they’re killing us too. Look at us and look at our kids. We’re heavier than ever and diabetes, cancer and heart disease are on the rise. Maybe it’d be good to carry the cost of cleaning up over to the consumer. Perhaps we’d eat less of this nonsense.

As you can see, I had worked myself into quite the rant and had only made it halfway down the hill. It’s amazing where the mind wanders when the body is exercising and productively engaged. I hope you’ll try this out yourself. You may come up with a better idea, but one way or another, we’ll all benefit.

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