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.