March 31, 2004 • republished March 30, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • Hartford • 12:30 AM EST
Riding my bicycle through Hartford, I sometimes spy litterbugs in action. If I can, I confront the perpetrator with the potato chip bag (or worse). This crusade may result in my untimely demise, but I hate litter.
Recently, I spotted a hand tossing a cigarette butt out a red pick-up truck stopped at the intersection of Main and Buckingham. I pedaled up to the culprit at the wheel, a hard-hat worker. Our interaction went something like this:
"That wasn't cool," I said.
"What wasn't cool?" he asked.
"You throwing your cigarette on the street," I fired back.
"What?" he responded laughing. "Whaddya gonna do about it?"
"I'm going to pick it up and give it back to you and ask that you put it in your ashtray," I responded. I crushed out the still-smoking cherry, and threw the extinguished butt into his lap. He rejected it onto the street.
"Look," I said, pointing at litter-strewn sidewalk in front of South Congregational Church. "If everyone made the decision I am asking you to make right now, our city wouldn’t be this crappy."
After a brief pause, he said "Okay." I retrieved the butt again, and gave it to him. He placed it in his ashtray.
"Thank you," I said, and rode away, feeling smug.
But is that it? No. If everyone made the decision to not litter, our city might appear cleaner, but mercury, asthma and the South and North Meadows aren't leaving our single-serving society.
We must stop waste before it exists. First, if an identifiable name is on an offending piece of rubbish, that entity should be responsible for the cost of its removal. I encourage everyone to return McTrash to the Golden Arches. The Mickey D's store manager invariably stares at the pile of McRemnants on the counter, then threatens to call the police.
It's McDonald's who should be prosecuted for blighting the landscape with its ready-to-toss product line. While labeled "Please Don't Litter," french-fry sleeves and paper cups, one-use packages sold to-go, invite discarding with disregard.
Instituting mandatory takebacks works not only with fast-food garbage, but with TVs, refrigerators, and computers, too. Corporations reap massive profits by foisting the disposal costs of their toxic products onto the public.
Creating awareness about the consequences of consumerism is as essential as following Europe's lead and enforcing packaging reduction statutes to cut into junk flows. Under penalty of law, manufacturers must eliminate excessive boxes, stryofoams and cellophanes. Think Ikea.
Let's prohibit planned obsolesence, too. Yeah.
Back in reality, we have a state legislature unable to pass a juice bottle recycling bill, forget debating ecologist Paul Hawken's proposal to eliminate income taxes and begin levying tariffs on natural resources — trees, ore, etc. This could end exploitation of raw materials by tieing profit to conservation.
While ski slopes at the North Meadows landfill seem in sight, so does a waste-management strategy that could close the South Meadows trash-to-energy plant.