Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Littering Season is Upon Us

For any movie buffs out there, here’s a trivia question: what single substance is mentioned during memorable conversations in the films It’s A Wonderful Life and The Graduate? Hints, if you need them: in It’s A Wonderful Life, the word is mentioned by Sam Wainwright during a famous and subtly steamy telephone conversation with George Bailey and Mary Hatch (Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed) together on the other end of the line. In The Graduate, the word is uttered at a graduation party, and is part of an often-repeated line that was offered as confidential advice by Mr. McGuire to the college graduate himself, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman).

For me the word also comes to mind each spring, a season that seems to bring out the worst in some drivers. The winter cold apparently discourages littering — people who toss garbage out of their cars tend to do so much less from November through March. Apparently disposing of their trash in alternate fashion (maybe a garbage can or recycling container, god forbid) is more attractive than opening the car window during the cold season.

But spring has surely arrived, as confirmed by changes in our front yard: the tulips and daffodils have sprouted, bugs are moving about, and pieces of trash are once again appearing on a regular basis. The same happens at other homes on our road, and elsewhere as well. It’s sometimes a function of location: we’re just the right distance from certain fast-food and convenience stores that lazy customers are just finishing their meal or snack as they pass down the road, meaning it’s time to toss stuff out the window.

Which brings up the answer to the movie trivia question: plastics. In It’s A Wonderful Life, Wainwright mentions “making plastics out of soybeans,” and in The Graduate, McGuire famously says, “Ben, I want to say just one word. Just one word. Plastics.” And while cardboard and paper items are frequently tossed from passing cars, plastics, especially bottles, lead the way.

Throwing stuff out the car window like that is for mental dullards and self-centered, lazy people who don’t give a damn about others. (Some call it piggish behavior, but then you’d have to apologize to all pigs.) Such littering seems an especially egregious practice in our locale, the Plattsburgh area in Clinton County, where there are countless opportunities to recycle. We even have access to zero-sort recycling by Casella Waste Systems. As their brochure states, “Zero-Sort recycling is Casella’s state-of-the-art process which enables paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, and metal cans to be collected together in one bin, eliminating the need for you to separate recyclables.”

Take a couple of minutes to watch this Zero-Sort video. You’ll be amazed at how technology is helping to solve our ongoing garbage problem. This system allows customers to toss all those materials into a single tote, and once a week, two 96-gallon curbside containers, one of garbage and one of recyclables, are wheeled to the end of the driveway for pickup.

What difference can recycling make? Our own recycling container is usually half- to three-quarters full (paper and cardboard from our business accounts for a portion of that), while our garbage now amounts to only a few pounds per week. We’re a two-person household, so numbers for families will differ, but what a great improvement it is over the past, when nearly everything was considered garbage. Now, a high percentage of the waste we generate is recycled. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a good one.

At the risk of preaching to the choir (assuming readers of Adirondack Almanack can’t possibly be litterers and non-recyclers), I urge everyone to put an effort into recycling. It’s usually not as easy as the zero-sort system, but it’s still worth doing.

As for littering, I can say that from a non-litterer’s perspective, there is no understanding the mindset that deems it OK to toss stuff into the woods, the water, or onto the roadside. Besides the obvious reasons, it often has a negative impact on the experiences of others. From decades of hiking, climbing, and canoeing, I have many great memories, but a few not-so-great moments — each related to plastics — regretfully and undesirably remain as fresh in my mind as the good times.

One hike west of Upper Chateaugay Lake found me six miles from the nearest paved road, far enough to fantasize that I was exploring near-virgin territory in a swamp. Who, after all, would be crazy enough to go that far and ignore perfectly nice, dry woods in favor of slogging through a cold, marshy mess. But I had my reasons, and for a while was in hiker’s heaven. Then, in the midst of it all, I spied a plastic soda bottle, and will never forget the sudden wave of dismay that swept through me. After all, IF someone were so crazy as to venture into such remote, forbidding territory, one would think they’d be a nature lover, and certainly not inclined to litter. But before exiting the swamp, I picked up three more pieces of trash. What a disappointment.

During a canoe trip on Taylor Pond at the northern base of Catamount Mountain, I found plastic water bottles and plastic six-pack holders in the brooks flowing into the pond, including Bear Brook to the north, Pete Lagus Brook to the southwest, and an inlet a little farther west, near the peninsula campsite.

The third instance was on a walk at Ausable Point on Lake Champlain, where a seagull in the water raised quite a fuss but didn’t take off as Jill and I approached, indicating something might be wrong. I got close enough that, as the bird flopped around anxiously, one of those notorious six-pack holders could be seen wrapped around the bird’s legs. I had handled seagulls in the past, and they can be pretty feisty, but Jill and I felt we had to do something. I don’t know how, but without suffering any bites, I managed to remove the plastic and the bird flew off.

Most hikers should know the mantra after decades of efforts by several organizations: if you carry it in, carry it out. Remember that your seemingly insignificant garbage, even a gum wrapper or a small plastic bottle, is harmful to the environment and diminishes the experiences of others.

And though it may sound corny, another mantra from those old Woodsy Owl PSAs applies as well: Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute!

Photos: Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart during the phone call in It’s A Wonderful Life (Wikipedia); our Zero-sort recycling container from Casella Waste Systems; baled plastics ready for recycling by Casella.

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.


19 Responses

  1. If there were any justice in this world, all those polluters would have to eat every piece of trash they threw along the road or the shore. I paddle the Hudson River a lot, and every time I return to the launch site with a boat full of beer cans and soda bottles, folks must think I’ve been partying hard!

  2. Charlie S says:

    “but without suffering any bites, I managed to remove the plastic and the bird flew off.”

    Thank you Lawrence. And your wife. I do my part and I feel good about it but I must say it’s an endless battle it seems as people just don’t seem to give a hoot. While reading the above I was reminded of the time I was driving down Rt. 7 in Niskayuna some few years ago when at once I saw I guy stick his arm out the window of his pickup truck and dump his McDonalds waste into the middle of the road. In broad daylight mind you with plenty of traffic around. I couldn’t believe it. I caught up to him and he refused to look my way as I beeped my horn and told him what an idiot he was. A dime a dozen. Geez!

  3. Richard L Daly says:

    Larry, Great re-cycle promo. But, in Clinton County, re-cycling is voluntary, not mandated. The dedicated Sheriff’s Solid Waste Enforcement Deputy and vehicle are long gone and the County is making lot$a money from the expanded landfill and imported waste. Casella recently informed the County Legislature that they have NO buyers for metal. What’s next? They already removed the metals and fabric bins from the Schuyler Falls “convenience” station. Casella advertises that they re-cycle #1 thru 7 plastics, but why do the bins allow only #1&2 AND only in shape of jugs or bottles? Inquiring minds wanna know!

  4. Kathy says:

    Less populated and quite rural areas see more beer cans along the roadside tossed out before the drivers re enter the more patrolled streets and collections of trash at pull offs and scenic areas along with tossed tires and mattresses. Deliberate dumping to avoid paying or visits to the closest eco/recycling center. No answers to fix these people. ….

    • Balian the Cat says:

      “fixing” these people might BE the answer, Kathy.

      • Kathy says:

        Some don’t recycle at all but complain about the Amish whose horses drop manure in the road. Their kids follow by example,unrelated to IQ but laziness ,don’t care,and saving a few dollars for those beers and Micky Ds.

  5. Boreas says:

    My pet peeve are the yahoos with pickup trucks who throw their trash (paper, cups, cans) into the open bed of the truck then let the wind scatter the litter randomly across the countryside. To make matters worse, this is often done with the tailgate down or off.

    Once a week I have to remove litter from my lawn – mostly from locals and campers from a nearby campground. Perhaps littering could be reduced by allowing convictions (or at least a mandatory investigation/visit by an officer) based only on a citizen report and license number.

  6. Charlie S says:

    Richard L Daly says: “why do the bins allow only #1&2 AND only in shape of jugs or bottles? Inquiring minds wanna know!”

    Yes and why do the recycle people not want styrofoam in the bins? I put styrofoam in the bins anyway and my question is If styrofoam is not recyclable why is it legal?

  7. Cliff Rocque says:

    It would be nice if we could put together some kind of program with teeth in the law so that if you witness this kind of mindless pollution you could take a plate number or video report them and let the law or encon or somebody issue a warning and next time a heavy fine. Until you hit these polluters in the pocket book you will never get their attention. People talk a good game about protecting the environment but little is actually done, bigger fish to fry etc,,A major source that is largely ignored is cigarette butts, they are everywhere and no one seems to care…I know in the scheme of things this all seems a little trivial but we only have one planet and a finite supply of clean water…Lets protect it as best we can…

  8. Austin Curt says:

    I’ve always thought littering was constant during the year. Wintertime littering is quickly buried in snow, not visible until spring. The Northway was just got its spring cleaning, and there are a couple big orange bags full of trash every 100 yards or so, ready to be picked up.

    I’d be OK with a special registration surcharge on pickup trucks, to pay for picking up litter. I own one and while I don’t litter on purpose, it takes considerable cleanliness (or a cover) to avoid the occasional item flying out.

    I suspect there is a demographic that thinks anti-littering laws are a form of political correctness.

    Another factor, of course, is that those who drive home with a cooler every day can’t very well keep their empties in the cab. You can almost find where they live by following the trail of Milwaukee Light cans.

  9. Dennis says:

    Just back from camping at Fish Brook Pond (near Lake George). On the way in we stopped at Bump’s Pond. We had considered camping there but the place was a mess. A not quite empty liquor bottle on the chimney remains; fire pit was a horror show of trash. So we carried on to Fish Brook, the north lean-to. Another mess. Liquor bottles, empty cans and six or so unopened beer cans. Plenty of empty plastic bottles at both sites. We packed out a full bag of trash and left the site in much better shape than we found it. But it’s obvious that without some semblance of ranger presence, campsites in the Adirondacks will continue to be trashed, quite literally. When we backpack, we’ll continue to carry out much of the trash we find. At some point, Adirondack advocacy groups may finally make an issue of the fact that DEC forest ranger headcount has been held flat for more than a decade now and call out the Governor and legislature on that. But I won’t hold my breath. Instead, same old vague wishy-washy observations about overuse (yeah, sure, Boreas will solve that problem) while the situation gets worse.

  10. Dan says:

    What frosts me is cigarette butts.

    • Kathy says:

      Too bad they are not considered an arson attempt even if dead butted out the window. I can’t walk my road at nite for fear of getting hit with a beer can or chased by a loose dog. Never thought about getting hit with a live butt.

      • Balian the Cat says:

        I was in the Cascades this past summer and the signs there stated that tossing cigarette butts out of your window could incur a $900 fine! That’s almost certainly related to the fire hazard present in such a dry (low humidity) forested climate – but it got my attention and seemed like a great idea!

  11. Dean Bianco says:

    The fines for road-side littering in NYS are pathetically low. There are “No Littering—Fine—$50” signs at the Onchiota turn-off on Route 3 near Vermontville. Fifty dollars??? This alone says to litterbugs that as a community, we don’t truly value a non-trashed landscape. The low fine probably dates back 50 years!

    Therefore, in my view, we need to raise the fine for littering at least ten times this amount. This measure, combined with reader Cliff Rocque’s above-mentioned video reporting to the authorities of a drive-by slob in action, will be a step in the right direction.

    • Boreas says:

      “Public Shaming” added to the consequences for a first offense would likely make more of an impression than a simple, one-time fine. Run a weekly TV spot with a list and photos of offenders. Add pictures of offenders to the Police Blotter and weekly community papers. All this, in addition to Highway Clean-up Duty 2 days/month for a year – while wearing a “sandwich” sign stating “LITTERER”

  12. Charlie herr says:


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