Littering: a Common mess

by Beacon Staff • October 10, 2007

Sight-seers congregate daily to walk the Freedom Trail or play a few sets of tennis, but strewn throughout the park are paper cups, rotting food and other trash.,Established early in the colonial era as a cattle grazing grounds, the Boston Common is one of the oldest parks in America, and one of the city's top tourist attractions. Despite this, Bostonians have "messed" it up.

Sight-seers congregate daily to walk the Freedom Trail or play a few sets of tennis, but strewn throughout the park are paper cups, rotting food and other trash.

This embarrassment should prompt the city's citizens to think of the implications of making a mess of public spaces.

No public park has ever been a pristine and trashless utopia, but that is no reason to view littering as irrelevant or unpreventable.

Humans have always managed to make a mess in public areas from the ancient Romans to the first European settlers in North America. When and where has there not been trash lying around in streets and parks?

This fact should not serve as cause to give up or to neglect the situation. If citizens express ambivalence on the issue of litter and general cleanliness, the dignity and well-being of public places and that of our society, will suffer.

Massachusetts law states that police have the right to arrest anyone they see littering who refuses to throw their trash away. This law is largely ignored and it shouldn't be. If police arrested litterers, people would litter no more.

Realistically, however, officers cannot spend appreciable amounts of time arresting violators because it would divert resources from dealing with more serious criminals or urgent matters.

According to the Web site for Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit environmental group, a community with high anti-crime standards is less likely to have litter problems.

This idea is supported in a study conducted by the National Institute of Justice, which said both disorder and crime stem from poverty, and in communities where collective efficacy (a community's shared commitment to maintain its environment) was strong there were relatively low rates of crime and litter.

One measure enacted by the state of Massachusetts which has decreased the proliferation of litter is the Deposit Law.

This requires vendors to charge an extra 5 cents on every container of carbonated drinks or beer, which is given back to the consumer when they return the bottle at a recycling center.

According to bottlebill.org, "The deposit law reduced total litter in Massachusetts by 30 to 35 percent, and the incidents of glass-related lacerations in children fell 60 percent during the year after implementation of the law."

This is firm evidence of progress in Massachusetts, but more can be done to ensure that the public outdoors is litter-free.

For example, the Deposit Law could be expanded to include the bottles and cans of non-carbonated beverages-a la Maine's Bottle Law-and the adaptation of a recyclable, standardized container for take-out food.

Also, restaurants could be required to charge customers a fee for every extra utensil or napkin they request, resulting in lesser demand for such items, and a lessening of these items on sidewalks.

If our culture does not clean up this massive mess, we may as well let the waste pile up upon our buildings.

Responsible citizenship-of which cleanliness and consideration are a part-is mandatory for us to preserve our environment and our dignity.

If this is not so, if this simple value we cannot preserve, our society will become rubbish, in more ways than one.