When we bought a house and moved to Long Island from the Bronx more than 25 years ago, there were certain things I was prepared for. Those quintessentially Long Island things.
I did not expect one of them to be litter. On my own property. In single-family-home heaven.
It’s not so bad in the winter, but now ’tis the season.
That’s not my imagination. The temperature rises, and the litter falls. A lot of it ends up on my lawn. Or, more precisely, on the planting strip outside the hedge and the fence.
We’re at a particular disadvantage being on a corner — twice the streetfront for trash to accumulate. And the four-way stop seems to entice litterers who, perhaps, take advantage of the stop to toss something out of the car.
That’s just a theory. My frustration is real. Let me catalog it: candy wrappers and empty chip bags, straws and plastic cups, bottles and cans, scraps of paper and pieces of plastic, paper bags filled with refuse from Burger King and Taco Bell, cardboard drink holders, tissues, sheets of newspaper, batteries.
And cigarette butts. Thousands of cigarette butts. They’re the worst.
I can’t cut the lawn without checking the grass near the street, unless I want to chew something up and spit it out the mower in a thousand pieces.
You can use a lot of adjectives to describe littering. Disgusting. Anti-social. Lazy. Inconsiderate. Disrespectful to your fellow humans. Disrespectful to the planet.
But I keep coming back to another word: unthinking. It can’t be a conscious choice, can it? Does anyone who tosses a piece of trash to the ground think to himself or herself that this is a good idea?
How does one answer the child in the back seat who asks: Why did you throw that out the window?
I’ve always thought of littering as a furtive thing, something you take pains to hide. That’s why I find so much trash on the other side of the 6-foot stockade fence. You can’t be seen over there. But I’m also amazed by the brazenness of people who jettison stuff from cars in broad daylight surrounded by other vehicles and drivers. The nonchalance stuns me. I used to lean on my horn, hoping that the litterer might wonder why someone was registering disapproval and would connect it to the act of littering and stop doing it. But my wife sensibly pointed out the possibility of inspiring a road rage incident, so I stopped. But I still blow the horn mentally.
There are studies that say littering is declining. That’s not what I see. I’d say that maybe I’m just getting more cranky, except for that study that found that our national landscape is befouled by 52 billion pieces of litter. About 1.4 billion pounds of trash end up in the ocean every year.
Look at most any roadside, I mean really look. See what the wind has plastered against a chain-link fence. We have miles of highways where cleanups are sponsored by a company or civic group. Good for them. But why should this be necessary?
As a teen working on my Eagle Scout project, I led an effort to clean up a marshy area along the Quinnipiac River in Hamden, Connecticut. We put on waders and pulled out an amazing assortment of junk, including washing machines and car tires. I suppose nowadays I should be thankful. But I’m not.
I just don’t get it. We Long Islanders burst with civic pride, we’re obsessed with property values, we love our neighborhoods . . . and we defile them daily.
So give me litter cameras, litter patrols that hand out scarlet L’s, and 12-step treatment plans for litterbugs.
Just don’t give me any more of your litter.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.