I live in a pretty small town. It’s a suburb of Boston. Fairly affluent and close to the water. I walk a lot of places because most of what I need is in walking distance. There’s a shopping center near my house with a Whole Foods that I often visit. It’s a nice walk. Mostly through neighborhoods and some green spaces, but I’m always surprised by how much garbage there is in the streets in these wealthy neighborhoods.
There’s a stretch of wooded area that’s about an eighth of a mile long that is packed with garbage about six to seven feet deep into the woods. It’s weird. I’m not sure how it’s gotten there or continues to collect. But my best guess is that it happens on windy trash pickup days, when the elements have the chance to spread some of the garbage around. Either way, the point is whose job is it to clean this mess up?
What Do We Do Now?
If my guess is correct, then it’s really no one’s fault that there is garbage on the streets and in our neighborhoods. But that doesn’t help to solve the issue of, how do we clean this mess up? It may seem fairly benign. But usually the communities that are hit hardest are the poorest.
I used to live in what some people would call “the ghetto”, but it wasn’t such a bad neighborhood. Sure the apartments were crowded, over packed with poorly tended to things and falling apart. And the kids where lighting firecrackers off in the middle of the night in the streets. But the people were usually pretty friendly. I used to chat with my downstairs neighbor often while I was coming in or going out. He was a smoker so I’d see him on the porch and we’d fall into conversations.
One time we spoke about the garbage in the streets at the bottom of the hill we lived on. I kept trying to bullster his spirits by telling him that it was just being washed by the rain from the top of the hill. But he just stared off into the distance and said, “this place is so dirty”. I felt bad and the hopelessness in his voice was palpable. So I ended the conversation. But you could tell it’s something that he’s thought about often and to no avail.
Start Where You Are
On the other side of the coin my dad walks the beach by our house. And when the weather is nice he’ll bring a bucket and some grabbers and pick up whatever trash is on the beach. Sometimes he’ll fill the bucket five to six times a trip. Not only that but he’s inspired other beach walkers to do the same. “Sometimes” he says, “there’s nothing to pick up at all.”
That’s great news to be sure but that kind of comradery shouldn’t only have to happen in the scenic places. What about the places like the stretch of woods I walk by? Out of sight out of mind? And the neighborhood I used to live in? These places need our attention as much as the scenic ones do. And I believe it should be the job of not just the neighborhood to clean them up but all able bodies in the surrounding area.
All of this sounds pretty idyllic. And I agree it’s hard to imagine some of the people in the neighborhood scouring the streets and woods for rotting pieces of garbage. One of the reasons I believe that the idea is such an unappealing task is because the people doing it now are usually in cuffs and orange jumpers. Paying society back for some grievance they’ve committed.
The only issue I take with this is that it’s our mess. Why aren’t we cleaning it up? We clean our houses, make our beds, fold laundry. We clean our yards and take out the garbage from our houses. Why does it have to stop there?
I visited Japan years ago and was amazed at how clean everything seemed. No litter on the streets and the flora and green spaces were manicured and well kept. It was refreshing. In an article on Japan Today titled “8 Reasons Japan is so Clean“, author Amy Chavez goes into detail about why Japan is so adept at keeping its streets and green spaces clean.
She mostly attributes it to social responsibility and cleaning up each person’s own spaces, including around their homes and places of work. But the sense of responsibility, follow through and dedication each person has to their own and others shared spaces is what’s so inspiring about this aspect of Japanese culture.
A friend of mine who lives in a neighboring city has started a group that does exactly what I’m writing about. In the spring and summer months she gathers a group of locals and they choose a section of the city to clean. They spend the afternoon cleaning. If we could replicate this across the country, we’d have beautiful green spaces and city streets. But we have to get involved.
This is something that is doable and it starts with us. Our determination and our ability to care about our shared collective spaces and the environment at large. So let’s all get involved in looking after and caring for our green spaces and city streets. We created this mess, it’s time for us to clean it up.