Lazy-minded litterers |

Lazy-minded litterers

Alan Braunholtz

A Swiss guide once questioned me about the litter a busload of U.S. teen-agers left in their wake. He wanted to know why we were such pigs. Was he condemning all Americans as a race? No, just angry at this aspect of U.S. culture.

Though I can’t stand litter, I can sort of understand the selfish uncaring mindset when someone drops a cigarette butt in a back alley. The act may not even rise into their feeble consciousness. Trash strewn around pleasant picnic areas, scenic overviews or riverbanks I find incomprehensible.

If you choose to go somewhere unspoilt for pleasure, then not much of a mental leap is needed to realize that leaving trash might spoil what you choose to do.

The logic of litterers escapes me. “Wow this is beautiful. I’m so glad I’m here. you don’t get to see this in the city. Hey, my ash tray’s full. Gotta dump it now can’t wait till I visit a gas station.”

I judge litterers badly, but then my politically correct guilt kicks in, asking what right does one culture have to judge another? Ethically, this is ridiculous. Just because something is the accepted norm in a culture doesn’t make it OK (slavery, sweatshops).

Transporting one’s trash to a bin is not much of an imposition, but leaving trash affects the happiness of every person after you. Ethically you lose. To change a culture of littering, you’d need to teach understanding and love of a clean environment. Then we’d care.

In some circles, perhaps it’s not manly or macho to care about anything you don’t have to. Personally, I think using one’s power to care rather than destroy is a very attractive trait. Fashion magazines think so, too, as there are always pictures of well-muscled guys cradling puppies and babies.

Doing the right thing for its own sake and your self-esteem are much more important than doing it to avoid being caught. A few active local dog owners – through peer pressure, information and the reward of of-leash parks – are changing the culture of dog owners.

More and more make the decision to pick up their poop and even the poop of other owners who don’t give a poop.

Disposing of household hazardous waste correctly takes a little more effort. It’s easiest to shove it in a Dumpster and pretend that’s OK. It’s not. Every year the equivalent of 33 Exxon Valdez’s oil spills enters our environment from oil changes and road run-off. The Eagle county landfill won’t accept any liquid waste you couldn’t drink, as toxic liquids may seep into the groundwater.

There are quite a few options here to get rid of hazardous waste responsibility. Motor oil can be dropped off at the town of Vail fleet facility for no charge. Phone 479-2162 to organize a pickup or drop-off of antifreeze and motor oil. Both Gypsum and Eagle also offer oil disposal at their town shops.

There is an annual hazardous waste drop-off day in the spring, which is a great opportunity to clean all those old pesticides, herbicides, car batteries, fluorescent bulbs and painting chemicals out of the garbage. Miss this day and the town of Vail has a program in which they’ll come to your house and pick up waste you want to get rid of. It costs $10 co-payment and you can only do it once per year. Phone 1-800 449-7587 for inforomation.

Privately, many garages accept motor oil for a fee, and Wal-Mart accepts car batteries. There are a lot of people trying to dispose of our waste as safely as possible. There’s no excuse not to use them, except laziness and a couldn’t-care-less attitude.

Litter can be viewed as a cosmetic issue that distracts from the underlying issue of excessive consumption and waste. When we put our trash into the correct bin, we feel good about throwing it away. What do we mean by “away” here? Landfills are a better spot for trash than, say, rivers, but they’re still not benign.

A better option is to reuse and recycle as much as we can. Computers can be recycled by contacting Adam Palmer at 479-2440, and the rummage sale is a great event for reusing stuff. The mountains of knick knacks left at the end of the sale shows how much junk we buy, then frivolously toss.

The best deal is not to produce trash in the first place. Buy second hand or high-quality products that last for years. The high prices of quality goods stop needless impulse purchases of unneeded junk. Daily life offers untold opportunities to cut back on trash production. Instead of fast-food lunches in paper bags, cans and Styrofoam containers, pack a lunch box and thermos. It’s cheaper and healthier for you and the environment.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.

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