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An Environmentalist & Her Existential Litter Crisis

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Written by Jennifer Nini

Each morning as I enjoy my cup of coffee in the park across the road from our office I come face to face with my nemesis: litter. 

It may be a lone cigarette butt at the foot of the park bench. It could be a half empty Coke bottle wedged between the trunk and branch of a tree. Or it could be an empty chocolate wrapper protruding from the green grass.

But every single work morning, there I am at the park, being tortured by the sight of someone else's trash.

And there I am every morning picking it up and uttering expletives as I throw it into the nearest bin, all the while thinking:

Why the fuck do people do this? Who the fuck do they think they are? Why the fuck don't they care? Do they know that the world is not their fucking dumpster?

And it's not just the park either. It seems everywhere I walk, everywhere I hike, on beach weekends away or at the local creek, I find other people's trash where it shouldn't be.

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Ben thinks I take it too personally and that I shouldn't care so much. He tells me to ignore the problem when it's staring me in the face.

But then two wrongs don't make a right, do they?

If they don't care, and I decide that I don't care, then how does that solve the world's litter problem?

In fact, how does the world solve the great problems of  humanity if no one cares?

Someone has to care right? Because if we all ignored the environmental injustice, we're a doomed species.

Is there room for compassion?

As only a writer would do, I create a story in my head about who it was that left their piece of trash and why they failed to pick up after themselves. Was it a:

  • distracted teenage Pokemoner so consumed by their phone screen that he/she forgot that they had eaten a whole packet of chips and left the empty packet on the ground?
  • 30-something mum exhausted from chasing after her two young children that she completely forgot that she'd left remnants of lunch at the picnic bench? Or,
  • an unemployed gentleman in his 40s, chain smoking feeling defeated by life and just couldn't summon the energy to walk the extra 10 steps to get rid of the butts?

The fact is, there are so many human possibilities, that the only way to really get to the bottom of it is to catch them red handed. Which I've done in the past, and have gone to great lengths to report, particularly if I see litter being thrown out of a car.

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In rare moments of litterer compassion, I find myself acknowledging that this mindless behaviour is a direct cause of living in this often messy, stressful chaotic world.

That from the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep, we humans are bombarded with decisions and information, consuming approximately 34 gigabytes of data every day, which leaves us frazzled, overwhelmed and so depleted that many just want to veg out and watch whatever TV show can bleep out the 8-10 hours prior.

When I consider how much we as individuals have to contend with, like determining which bills need to be paid, the emails that need responding to, what to wear, what to eat, what to cook, what chores/homework/work tasks need to be done, I can understand why litter is an issue.

Some people some of the time just zone out. In these moments, their care factor really is zero. No wonder this meme is popular, it resonates with almost all of us:

I either give too many fucks or no fucks at all. It is like I cannot find a middle ground for moderate fuck distribution.

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As an environmentalist, I pick up the trash. I don't like doing it, I may get filthy about it, but there's no other alternative is there?

Plus I've found a wonderful way to get back at these unknown litterers and hopefully prevent others from doing the same: ranting on social media. Guaranteed to make you feel better every time!

If you're an environmentalist and struggling with having to deal with an unconscious world, I encourage you to read Amanda Busher's piece, Do You Suffer From Ethical Living Burnout

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About the author

Jennifer Nini

Jennifer Nini is a writer, activist and the founding editor of Eco Warrior Princess. In 2010, after studying Fashion Business, she began this blog to explore her interests in fashion, politics, social justice and sustainability. Jennifer is also the founder of The Social Copywriter, a digital agency harnessing the power of copywriting and content marketing to help mindful businesses reach more people. When she's not perfecting a sentence or coaching business clients, you will find her at her certified organic farm reconnecting with nature.

4 Comments

  • 14 April 2011 – Canada: Ontario: Grenville County: Limerick Forest/2.0 km SSW McReynolds. (100m pond), 31B/13, 44.86893N 75.63877W TIME: 0907. AIR TEMP: 3.5, overcast, calm. HABITAT: small Typha/Salix pond in Pine plantations. OBSERVER: Frederick W. Schueler, Aleta Karstad Schueler. 2011/051/a, visit (event). natural history, release, poem. released FF Rana sylvatica & Ambystoma laterale. Turdus migratorius (Robin) the conspicuous bird calling. We found a full container of bottled water on the roadside. . .

    We need a sonnet about how
    the bottled water industry spends the winter
    strewing its product and their husks
    along the roadsides of Lyn and Limerick.

    We need a sonnet about this spring wonder
    of casual and heedless litterbug consumerism,
    a multi-armed little plastic god
    worshipped under the umbrella of the economy.

    We need a student to pursue bottlers and strewers
    To find out why the product is so often
    strewn unconsumed until picked up
    by environmentalist recycling wonks.

    We need a couplet that tries to comprehend:
    “What message is the litter industry trying to send?”

    • Thank you Fred for sharing this poem. I think it captures the sentiment perfectly and I will remember it the next time I see litter… which I’m betting will be tomorrow morning as I walk to the park 🙂

    • So glad! It’s an ongoing battle isn’t it. I want to be the kind of environmentalist who loves picking up trash. But the way I see it, it’s unfair. I liken it to a share household where one person is always doing the cleaning who gets resentful because the others aren’t pitching in LOL!

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