I was walking home one afternoon recently and had a couple of big heavy bags loaded with groceries. I would stop every now and again to adjust the load because I probably overdid it — there’s a good reason the conventional wisdom is to never shop when you are hungry. While walking, I observed a man several feet ahead of me taking sips of coffee from a cup, who abruptly stopped walking. He took a final sip of his drink and put the cup upside down on a hedge in front of someone’s home before dashing off and going to his own apartment building.

Earlier in the week I had been en route to my office when I saw a gentleman sitting on a bench, snacking on what I’m sure was some gourmet delicacy from the restaurant with the exquisite golden arches. He too reached the end of his meal and threw the paper wrapper formerly holding his food underneath where he sat, as though there were a giant trash container waiting for his refuse.

On yet another occasion, I was again walking to the office when I saw a person paying for his parking meter with a city issued prepaid parking meter card. Evidently, the card had just run out of money because the person took the card out of the machine and threw it right onto the street as though it had just said some harsh things about the person and was ready to start a street fight.

On two of these occasions I went out of my way to collect the refuse thrown by the individuals. I did not crawl under the man sitting on the bench to collect his food wrapper because he was still sitting on it, consuming more delicacies. However, I could not see fit to let the other garbage just go onto the street or private property like that.

As a result, I have been trying every day to pick up a few articles of garbage from the street when I see them. Unfortunately, as a dweller in what seems like one of the dirtiest cities in the country, this is barely a dent in the total amount of garbage that is just sitting out there, largely ignored by passersby.

I would like to offer the following challenge to you, dear reader. It is too frequent that people say, “If only somebody would do something about the trash on the streets!” When the Mass Transit Authority of New York announced that they had to cut back on cleaning crews in order to save some money in their budget, all of the free daily papers announced that there would be so much more trash on the subway as a result — and people sighed, “If only someone would just do something about that!”

It isn’t always just the trash. There are so many problems in life like the trash that seem positively overwhelming — illiteracy, homelessness to name a couple — about which people cast up their hands and hope for somebody to just do something.

The challenge is as follows : Be That Somebody. While it is absolutely true that no one person is going to be able to clear all of the trash from the streets, many people clearing a couple of pieces of litter would be significantly more effective. Should enough people choose to be that somebody, there would not be trash on the street. Does it solve the illiteracy problem if you tutored one child for the duration of the school year? It does not. Does it make a difference if many people did the same thing? It absolutely does.

Be somebody — and take the initiative to pick up a couple of pieces of trash every day. Maybe you could even be bolder than me and suggest to the people who deposit their trash on the streets that there might just be a cleaner, healthier way to do it. It really is just that simple to be somebody.


  1. Love the article, Gordon!

    When I was but a wee lad, my slightly-older cousin and I were walking along some dirt trails. I opened a piece of candy and tossed the wrapper on the ground.

    My cousin was horrified! She told me to stop littering and to go pick up my trash. I was shocked. Everyone I knew littered. It wasn’t a big deal.

    I chased after the cellophane blowing in the wind, and when I brought it back to her, I asked her what I should do with it since there was no trashcan near us.

    She told me to put it in my pocket until we arrived home. Then I could properly dispose of it.

    Lesson learned. The hard way.

  2. It is not just the urban core that suffers from this problem – it is the bane of our lives. We live in a Conservation Area – an area of “Outstanding Natural Beauty” surrounded by land owned by The National Trust and other Charitable Trusts and the amount of litter left by visitors is appalling.

    Not only do they leave their sweet wrappers, their cigarette packets and their soda cans – they also leave soiled *disposable nappies/diapers* and worse.

    All this in spite of ALL the *Take your Rubbish Home* signs and *Bag it and Bin it* slogans.

    The village has a volunteer crew that cleans the beach and car parking area and the banks of the stream every weekend during the summer holidays.

    The crew also has a bi-annual clean up of beach debris at the start and the end of the season.

    The irony is that the local authority will not put bins there as they are deemed to cause more rubbish !!!!

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