I always keep a small trash bag hanging from the radio dial in my car. When my daughters were young, they knew this was where we put our candy wrappers, gum or tissues. We never threw anything out of the car’s windows. The girls are long grown and flown, but I’m happy they still embrace this childhood lesson. One even hangs a bag in her car in the same way.
I now live in Riverhead, on the North Fork, where Peconic Bay washes up on the south and the Long Island Sound on the north. Unfortunately, litter thoughtlessly tossed onto our roads often ends up in these beautiful waters.
Recently, as I walked my dog along hilly and tree-lined Roanoke Avenue, which slopes sharply down toward the rocky beaches of the Sound, a car zoomed past. The driver lowered her window and tossed a half-full soda can onto the road. This blatant act so infuriated me that I hollered at her, “Littering is disgusting!”
The car screeched to a halt, backed up and stopped next to me. I felt some apprehension as the driver’s window was rolled down.
“Were you screaming at me?” she asked.
I explained, in a softer tone, what I had yelled.
She was silent. A moment of hope? Had I enlightened this person?
No such luck.
“Lady, get a life,” she sneered, raising her window and roaring away, leaving me fuming as I picked up her trash.
Year-round, but more often in the summer, Roanoke Avenue, like many of the roads on the North Fork, is lined with litter tossed from cars whose thoughtless occupants enjoy the beaches, farm stands and wineries. Unfortunately, no one has taught them to keep their garbage in their cars or put it in trash cans at the beach parking lots and other venues.
The plastic bags snag on trees, shredded by the wind. Plastic water and soda bottles, aluminum cans and cardboard fast-food containers all tumble along until they reach the beach and pollute the water. Some objects are ingested by sea turtles and other marine life, resulting in disease and death. Plastic straws got more bad press after one turned up in the nose of a turtle.
Often, when I walk, I take a bag and pick up the garbage, wondering how people do not know that littering is dangerous and unhealthy, that it destroys the beautiful waters, parks and open space we all enjoy.
My heart aches as I pick up each item. I’m part of a frustrated minority, judging by the amount of debris I see everywhere on Long Island. Climate change is a hot debate right now, but where litter is concerned, we have control over our environment. Why don’t we exercise it?
Reader Judi Mogul lives in Riverhead.