No matter how much you pick up, there's always more litter

Mar 14, 2019

Credit IHMC

For years in my Pensacola News Journal column, and here on WUWF, I’ve chronicled my efforts to clean up roadside litter. One unvarying factor was that no matter how often, or how much, litter I collected, it didn’t take long for there to be more.  It also didn’t take long to abandon my dream that cleaning up litter might inspire people to stop tossing it. 

It does not. 

So, for myself and the many other people you see policing their neighborhoods, it has become an act you do for yourself for the satisfaction of, at least briefly, having a litter-free neighborhood. So earlier this week my wife and I were happy to join a visit by the Keep Pensacola Beautiful organization, which organized a cleanup in our neighborhood, the Tanyard.  And let me here give a nod of thanks to the City of Pensacola for having put up neighborhood name signs all over the city. It’s another step toward creating community.

In addition to informing curious people about where they are, it helps give residents of an area a kinship with their neighbors. Anyway, the cleanup reminded me of another truism about litter: There is always more than you think. When I first started picking up litter on Mary Kitchens Road on Garcon Point, I went out with a couple of five-gallon buckets. That quickly upgraded to a large trash can tied to the back of my golf cart, and then a second can, plus a few more buckets. After awhile I figured people unfamiliar with my cleanup efforts must have seen the trash-laden cart and imagined I was an itinerant rag picker. I also worried for awhile that anyone who saw trash flying off my speeding cart and landing along the roadside might have characterized me as a litterer myself, but I got over that. 

By litter standards, our Pensacola neighborhood didn’t seem so bad. My wife and I picked up two buckets and a mid-size burlap garbage bag from the Keep Pensacola Beautiful table and, on our bicycles, headed for Romana Street, intending to clean between A and E streets. Before we covered two blocks the bag was full, and so were the buckets. We headed back, unsteadily balancing all the trash, and this time got two bags. We then returned to the scene of the crime.  At this point other volunteers were on Romana Street, so we cut down D Street toward Government. By the time we reached it, both bags and both buckets were stuffed, and we had a pile of assorted trash, including an abandoned sleeping bag. 

As we stood there for a minute trying to figure out how to balance all this stuff on two bicycles without risking our lives, I decided to ride home and get my pickup truck, a much saner alternative.  It was sobering to realize how badly we underestimated how much trash was on the streets of our neighborhood, especially this close to the heart of downtown. But we are happier knowing that, at least for a few days, it looks much cleaner.