It’s Not Mine, So Why Should I Care?

It was only noon, and Saturday had already been one of those “I’ve lost faith in all of humanity” kind of days.

This is, most likely, because I live in a large city, inside this great country we call the United States of America. Don’t get me wrong, I love this country. I appreciate the luxuries I am fortunate enough to be able to enjoy. And yet, I find it hard some days to be proud of being human, or at least of living in one of the many countries that we consider “first world.”

It started when I let my dogs outside in the morning. I took the first one out, he did his business, I picked it up, tossed it where it belongs, and we went back inside. I leashed up my second pup, and took him outside to the same spot I just had my other dog. In the 2 minutes it took to leash up the second dog, someone else had let their dog do its business and left. Sigh. So I picked it up along with my dog’s.

On the second round of potty breaks for the boys, I took my younger guy for a short walk around a couple of the buildings. It was too hot for anything substantial, but he was antsy so I figured a mini walk and play session couldn’t hurt. As we walked out toward a parking lot, there was a McDonald’s bag and all of its contents spewed across the lawn, right in front of the leasing office (a space, by the way, that they can see clearly from their office…). Double sigh.

Despite the fact that a little voice in my head said hey, it’s their job to keep the grounds clean… I picked it up. That little voice in my head was drowned out by an even louder voice saying what on earth are you thinking?! This is our world, our planet, our community – it’s just as much my responsibility as a human being inhabiting this planet to pick that up as it is the leasing office’s job to keep the grounds tidy and livable!

So, dog leash in one hand, and dirty McDonald’s bag in the other, we plugged onward. 15 feet away, behind another car, sat a plastic bag and a to-go container from Chipotle. What on earth? Triple sigh… I’ll grab that too. I already need to sanitize my hands… Turns out, the container was over half full of food. What a waste! Not to mention dangerous if a dog were to get into it…

Back in the apartment, feeling slightly annoyed but not altogether surprised based on past experience at this particular apartment complex, I decided I would go for a short jog. On the home stretch, as I was walking to cool down, I came upon a larger-than-average Budweiser bottle. Really? At this point, I began noticing every little piece of garbage around me and realized it was a disaster. Broken glass, shreds of paper, cigarette butts, plastic, lighters… I picked up the glass bottle but left the rest because I would have needed a dump truck to get it all anyway. How many sighs am I on now?

As I got to the dumpster, I noticed a shopping cart just chilling in the middle of the parking lot. The grocery store it belongs to is over a block away, and on the opposite corner of the street. For crying out loud people, are we really that incredibly lazy as a species? Apparently so. Commence the trek across a busy intersection with an empty shopping cart. Sigh.

As I was walking home from the store, empty handed and even more heavy-hearted, I started to wonder what on earth makes us as a society think it’s OK to dump whatever we want, wherever we want, with a total disregard for other people, but also for our environment? Have we reached a point, especially in larger cities, that we don’t even consider sidewalks, lawns, ditches, bushes, or trees “outside?” Do we not realize we are outside anymore? Has our world become so man-made that we forget that what lies underneath our buildings, our homes, our sidewalks and roads, is dirt? Earth?

Do we forget that we’ve taken up precious and dwindling space for plants and animals to grow, thrive, and survive so that we can have these things? Have we forgotten the enormous sacrifice that the natural world has made to accommodate our first-world lifestyles?

I say “we” because we all say we don’t litter — we definitely wouldn’t throw a beer bottle out of our car or drop our to-go container outside so it didn’t stink up our car. We can’t all not litter, someone’s doing it. Based on what I saw on Saturday (and everyday), a lot of people do it.

I’m certain I’m somewhat biased because I live in the city, and there’s always more trash lying around in the city. But I grew up outside of town, and I remember on multiple occasions taking garbage bags and picking up the exact same types of items from the ditch along our road that I see here. It’s not just a city problem. I’m positive it’s not just an American problem. And frankly, I don’t have a solution.

As I was thinking about writing this post I wondered to myself what if? What if we all picked up even one item every day? Better yet, what if we each filled a grocery bag with garbage every day?

Part of me says that would be hopeless. There’s always going to be those of us who continue this habit. But a couple of items a day, times a few hundred people, might make a little bit of difference.

I’m going to take a grocery bag with me each time I walk my dogs all week, and I’m going to fill it. I may even make it a daily habit. I’d love for anyone reading this to do the same, and then let me know in the comments that you did it and how it went.

About Jamie Schwoerer

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