Saturday, May 1, 2021

Northern New York: Don’t Trash It 

picking up litterNorthern New York is often recognized as a great place to live, work, and raise a family. We’re fortunate enough to call the Adirondack Park, Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the farms and forests of the northern tier home. World-class downhill and cross-country skiing, golf courses, camping, boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting, and rock climbing; trails for hiking, jogging, bicycling, and horseback riding; tennis courts, and opportunities for outdoor and wildlife photography all contribute to the extremely appealing quality of life that many of us have come to take for granted.

And the region doesn’t just provide opportunities for the active lifestyles of those who live here, our spectacular natural settings, scenic agricultural lands, and outdoorsy communities make the region an international destination for outdoors recreation enthusiasts, as well as business and leisure tourists and sightseers, from around the world. For the benefit and enjoyment of all of us; citizens and visitors alike; we want our communities and recreational spaces to look attractive and be safe and enjoyable.

Little Tosses – Big Problems

    Littering is a surefire way to make our communities unattractive and take the enjoyment out of outdoor recreational experiences. As far as I’m concerned, nothing ruins a sweeping mountain, farmland, or lake or river view than trash and debris scattered across the landscape. It’s pollution. And it’s visually offensive. It says we don’t care about or appreciate what we have. It affects our quality of life. It represents a danger to wildlife and pets who eat or become entangled in it. And it can be unhealthy and degrade water quality. What’s more, visitors and tourists are unlikely to return to areas that are unsightly. After all, no one wants to drive on roads, walk along downtown streets, or hike on trails lined with litter.

    It seems like I’m constantly picking up cans and bottles, fast food and individual- and multiple-serving paper, plastic, and Styrofoam containers and cups, fast food paper and home use plastic bags, half-used ketchup packets, candy wrappers, Styrofoam and plastic plates and utensils, empty cigarette packs and cigarette butts, broken glass, and now disposable face coverings and all kinds of, shall we say ‘casual’ litter, from the side of the road, from ditches, from out of the bushes and along tree lines, from lakes and ponds, and from swimming and fishing holes in rivers and streams.

Pure Laziness

    As far as I’m concerned, littering is pure laziness. I find it incredible just how thoughtless, selfish, and irresponsible (perhaps even malicious, in certain instances?) some people can be. Evidently, it’s become part of our culture. I mean, how difficult is it to keep a trash bag in your car and toss your refuse into the garbage when you get home or reach your destination? I guess it’s just easier to toss your empty can, cup, or container of whatever out the window, or to throw it on the ground rather than carry it out of the woods or to the receptacle up the street.

Participation in a Community Clean-Up Day

    Obviously, the best way to handle the problem of littering is for each of us to take responsibility for properly disposing of our waste. Unfortunately, since that seems highly unlikely, getting involved in a grassroots, community spring-cleaning effort may be the next-best solution.

    A community-based trash clean-up really goes beyond just picking up litter. A group of people working together to pick up trash can serve to raise awareness about littering; causing people to acknowledge, rather than ignore its existence. And just getting people to realize that they shouldn’t litter and that it’s okay to pick up trash can result in more people properly disposing of trash and discouraging others from littering.

    When citizens and visitors see trash being cleaned up by volunteers, they’re more likely to think about and be more conscientious about littering in the future. They may even start picking up trash themselves, instead of just walking past it, or organize clean-ups in their communities. And properly disposing of unsightly and potentially unhealthy litter will help make our communities better places to live and visit.

Saranac Lake Spring Clean-Up

    Litter doesn’t just disappear. Aluminum cans can last 100 years. Plastic bottles can remain in the environment pretty much forever.

    Every spring, clean-up efforts by individuals, civic groups, schools, churches, and businesses are organized across the North Country. They pick a day, gather a team of volunteers, select a site, often a stretch of highway, and pick up the trash. Some top off their clean up events with food and drinks. Some have music, too. Hey! It’s a good reason to celebrate.

    After dealing with the pandemic over the past year, the Village of Saranac Lake is getting ready for two spring clean-up weekends. And the Chamber of Commerce is welcoming people who want to get involved. The dates are May 7 to 9 and May 14 to 16. If you’d like to join in, call the Chamber at 518-891-1991 or email

Almanack file photo

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Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.

9 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    I believe “indirect littering” is the new problem. Yahoos seem to feel they can throw stuff into the bed of their pickup and somehow it magically disappears. Yesterday a pickup drove past me on the Northway doing probably 90 mph (perhaps works in enforcement?). Within a half mile, two plastic bottles, two empty trash bags, and a medium-size cardboard box flew out of the bed. But he was going so fast I couldn’t get his tag number. This is all too common. Littering needs to have stiffer penalties, and needs to be enforced.

    Perhaps an OEM optical system that senses contents of the bed being sucked out and distributed across the landscape would drop the vehicle into “limp home” mode! I would prefer that to more cupholders.

  2. Eric says:

    I pick up litter whenever I hike , and along the road where I live . It’s not just people littering that leaves the roadside a mess , it’s the garbage trucks also , it blows out of them . If people would make sure everything put in their totes was bagged and not just thrown in there loose it would help some.

  3. Vanessa says:

    Hear hear! I’m constantly shocked at how silly people are in terms of litter. And it’s worth noting that unfortunately it’s more than just the jerks – though certainly people who just drop trash are the worst offenders. It’s also about being careful with the stuff you bring out onto the trail. I have seen more clothing in the last 3-4 years (especially in the ADKs) than ever. I think I’ve already told my story here about the dirty underwear on Mt. Jo. ? Also inexplicable was a leather cowboy hat perched perfectly at eye level on a dead branch on the trail up Giant. The hec?

    And admittedly, no one is perfect, which is why effort and vigilance is so important. Speaking of clothing – I lost a spare shirt upon flipping a kayak on rapids a while back, and effort was definitely made for retrieval but it was completely gone by the time we’d bailed ourselves out downstream, etc. Unfortunately we’re all traffic…

    Found this podcast on this topic interesting: – and I don’t agree with it 100%, (personal responsibility is still important), but it’s also cool to learn the history of how producers of litter have managed to evade responsibility as well.

  4. Old Muley says:

    The folks responsible for litter are not reading anything on this web site. They are uneducated sloths. Yet, some of them can afford a $ 75,000 truck that spews trash from the bed of the truck. These types will be the first one’s to defend “Freedom”, rant about abolishing the APA, and bash “weekenders”. These folks live in paradise but have no clue….. selfish folks that will never change their filthy ways. It’s just the way it is.

  5. LeRoy Hogan says:

    Feelings are likewise in regard to roadside garbage.

  6. Robert Coleburn says:

    Vermont just completed its annual Green Up Day on May 1st. Vermont volunteers typically pickup approximately 250 tons of trash and 10,000 tires every year. It would be great if the Adirondack Park ran something similar. In the meantime I bring my picker and a trash bag and will pickup litter at trailheads after my hike.

  7. ADKresident says:

    Well, I’ve been in some homes where you need to wipe your feet on your way out the door; do you think they are concerned about litter? …. As Old Muley rightly stated, “The folks responsible for litter are not reading anything on this web site”. That’s so true.
    Just as a criminal will never submit to a background check or register his/her gun, no matter how many laws are passed; some people will never pick up an empty can, even if they tripped over it, broke their ankle and cracked their only tooth. Just like with everything, those who care will continue to care, followed by action and those who don’t, will carry on, littering along the way.

    • Balian the Cat says:

      Close the thread. Old Muley and ADK have said all that need be said!

  8. Susan says:

    A GREAT idea! But please be careful out there. About 14 years ago a lovely young lady in our school district was with her JROTC unit picking trash up from along a state route and was hit and killed by a motorist. It was a very tragic situation and the professional male driver was devastated. Our community lost a very promising beautiful young lady that day. So please take precautions and be aware of your surroundings while contributing to a very worthwhile effort.

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