Let's face it: People are slobs

All right, not all people are slobs, probably not even most folks — but there are enough dirtballs who think nothing of flinging trash out their car windows that so many roadways look like garbage dumps.

Lately it’s taking a lot longer for my friend Bob and me to finish our morning runs, and not just because our pace has slowed down. What began a few months ago as an occasional stop to pick up a stray candy wrapper or discarded beverage container has turned into an obsessive anti-litter campaign.

The other day, after having loped only a few dozen yards, we scored the day’s first “trifecta” — a beer can, cigarette pack and fast-food bag. By the time Bob and I covered 3 miles, we were lugging enough debris nearly to fill a small garbage can.

Twenty-four hours earlier, we picked up a similar batch on the same stretch of road; a day later, fresh junk again lined the roadside.

“Talk about an exercise in futility,” I griped. “We’re shoveling against the tide.”

“I know,” Bob said. “But I can’t let it go.”

We’ve noticed two trends: There are far fewer cigarette butts on the road, likely reflecting a general decline in smoking, but unfortunately whatever progress has been made on the tobacco front has been more than offset by an explosion of tossed “nip” bottles that hold 50 milliliters (about 1.6 ounces) of alcohol.

Others have made similar observations. Earlier this month, a Waterford woman wrote a letter to the editor saying she picked up nearly 100 of the miniature bottles during a recent clean-up day, and she urged parents and grandparents to lecture the “20-somethings” who are probably responsible for the litter.

I’m not sure the younger generation is entirely to blame for the proliferation of “nips” refuse, but I agree something has to be done.

Earlier this year, Maine became the first state in the nation to require 5-cent deposits on the 50-ml bottles, which I concede is a step in the right direction but feel is still far too minimal to be effective. That state also mandates 15-cent deposits for larger beverage containers, one of the highest such levies in the nation.

Here in Connecticut, lawmakers this year turned down a proposal by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to boost bottle/can deposits to 10 cents, so the fee remains a paltry nickel, a joke. Most people won’t even to stop and pick up a nickel on the ground. Only about half the cans and bottles sold here are redeemed; the rest wind up in garbage cans or on the side of the road, and the state pockets the deposits. Last year, that amounted to more than $33 million.

If I had the authority, I’d thumb my nose at soft drink manufacturers, brewers and wine and spirit producers who oppose higher deposits, and jack up the amount to a buck or so.

I wouldn’t stop there. I’d require fast-food restaurants either to design completely biodegradable packaging or to encourage customers to bring their own containers, much as grocery stores promote the use of recyclable bags.

Many supermarkets now are charging 10 cents for plastic bags — a good idea but, again, way too little. Make it sting.

As for the rest of roadside litter, Bob and I are often mystified: Why do some people place all their junk in one large bag, even neatly tying the end, and then toss the whole mess out the window, while others fling fistfuls of napkins, cups and wrappers willy-nilly?

One other not-too-surprising observation: There’s a clear correlation between the cost of a product and disposal practices. Over the years, I’ve picked up an estimated 14,793 Bud Lite cans from the side of the road, but have yet to encounter a single empty bottle of Veuve Clicquot or Dom Perignon.

Maybe Bob and I need to start running in better neighborhoods.

 

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