EHS OutLoud Blog

Littering Is Bad

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was loading bags of compost into my car at my local Home Depot store. In a large SUV a row away, a family of three – Mom, Dad and teenaged daughter – ate their lunch of burgers and fries from Five Guys, a local burger chain.

I watched, mesmerized, as they ate their meals. I wasn’t transfixed because it’s mesmerizing to watch someone chew, but because I couldn’t believe my eyes. From either side of the SUV, as one of them finished a burger, fries, cup of ketchup or a drink, the litter was tossed out of the window. As I watched, an entire meal’s worth of trash ended up scattered around their car.

So, I did what any self-respecting person would do: I waited until they got out of the truck and I went to pick up their trash. I’ve confronted litterbugs before, and it’s never pretty. I didn’t want a confrontation to spoil my day. It was easier to pick up the trash.

However, as I approached the car, I noticed something. It was a blistering hot day, and they had left their car windows open several inches. In a split second, my inner child took over.

I collected all the trash, including leaking paper cups of ketchup and half-full drinks, and dumped it all back into their car. An elderly woman watched me do it and applauded.

I’m not proud of what I did, but I don’t regret it either.

When I posted something about it on my Facebook page, nearly 200 people clicked “Like” or commented, offering everything from “attaboys!” to similar stories. Apparently, I’m not the only person who is tired of cleaning up the messes made by others.

This is true in the workplace as well. I used to have a coworker who, when spying dirty dishes left in our office sink “to soak” for days, would try to track down the owner and politely ask him or her to wash the dishes. When that didn’t work, he left Post-It notes saying, “This sink is not your personal petri dish. Please wash your dishes.”

When that no longer worked, he posted another note: “Any dishes left in the sink will be thrown out at the end of the day.” At the end of the day, several coffee cups, a couple of Tupperware containers and an oatmeal bowl or two along with assorted forks and spoons were tossed in the trash. For months afterward, no one left a dirty dish in the kitchen.

It’s unfortunate that we sometimes feel we have to go to these lengths to force people to be considerate of others, that polite requests to change behavior go unheard until frustrated, we take matters into our own hands.

That said, if you drive a large, white SUV that was parked at Home Depot on Sunday and returned to a mess in your truck … I’M NOT SORRY!!

TAGS: Environment
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