I live in Charlottesville. It’s a beautiful part of central Virginia, but the state doesn’t have a container deposit system in place. Having lived in states where they do have deposits, let me tell you: you notice the difference right away. Charlottesville is land-locked, but the kind of roadside litter in evidence here is more or less the same kind of stuff found along our beaches. The difference of course, is that unless there is a big gully-washer, a good portion of roadside trash stays put, just awaiting human removal.
On Monday, abnormally warm weather and sunny skies created the perfect conditions for a nice walk. When I walk, I always take a bag along for picking up litter. I lit out for territory further afield than my usual route– a stretch of road that parallels the railroad tracks. It’s wild brush on one side, older homes with big yards on the other. There’s no real shoulder, and cars travel faster than they ought to, so I’ve never made it a habit to walk this nearby road, called Old Ballard.
The sun glistened on rain dampened leaves, the birds in the hedgerows serenaded me exuberantly, and I felt uplifted even as I came upon the first bits of trash. Passing this scenery at 35 mph in my isolated car/pod, I wouldn’t have heard the sweet birdsong, nor would I have noticed the troubling abundance of man-made detritus partly buried in the thick ruff of grass and brambles bordering the asphalt.
My walk should have taken about an hour, but it took three; once I started noticing all the trash, there didn’t seem a good time or place to stop. I had to make piles along the way because I was unable to carry it all. I had to go back with my car to pick it all up, and this is what I found:
- Aluminum cans: 107
- Glass bottles: 82
- Plastic drink bottles: 66
- Plus the usual: wrappers, plastic bags, styrofoam cups, polystyrene cup covers, plastic straws and utensils, yogurt cups, chip bags, paper cups, cigarette butts.
My inventory caused me to think about a couple of things. All those cans and bottles probably wouldn’t have been out there had they been subject to a bottle deposit. They may still have been pitched, but if they could be redeemed at ten cents apiece, they wouldn’t have been left lying there.
Much of the trash was alcohol-related (the majority were beer cans and bottles). Is that because the litterer is ditching evidence of consumption, and/or because of lowered inhibitions?
When a place becomes a dumping ground, and trash accumulates, does it provide license for others to behave irresponsibly? In this case, it appears to be so. By the “broken windows theory,” a person is more likely to throw a cigarette butt or toss the remains of lunch out the window if neglect is already evident.
My principal takeaway from the discoveries of the morning was that Virginia needs to join the ten states that have a container deposit law. In fact, the nation needs a uniform container deposit law so states like California don’t get defrauded, fewer resources are wasted, recycling rates improve and trash to the landfill or incinerator decreases. We’d all benefit from that, as would the environment.
I felt good about my morning’s efforts, removing the rubbish and sorting the 255 containers for recycling. I enjoyed the exercise, and while I was at it, three people stopped to thank me. I’m hopeful that because a piece of Old Ballard between Woodberry and Broomley is no longer trashy-looking, it’ll attract less trash in the future. And I’ll be maintaining.
To my many friends devoted to litter bagging, please know that although we may never meet, your efforts constantly inspire me.