By Abby Wargo
On a warm, sunny Sunday in September, I decided to go for a walk around town. But what was supposed to be a respite from a day of completing schoolwork ended up being more work than I’d bargained for.
In the roughly half a mile span between the High Street entrance of the Kent Crossing apartments to the Dixon Valve plant, I picked up exactly 20 bottles and cans, some still half full. I counted each one as I threw them in the recycling bin. I did not have to leave the sidewalk to pick up any of them.
The fact is, littering has always been, and continues to be, a problem. The good news is littering in the United States has gone down 61% in the last 50 years, according to nonprofit steward of litter prevention Keep America Beautiful. It cites the decrease as a result of successful education efforts, ongoing cleanup efforts and changes in packaging.
Even though littering overall has sizably decreased, there is still more work to be done. Litter still happens, and its myriad effects on the environment cannot be understated.
Plastic litter has increased by a whopping 165% since 1969. Plastic trash, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has the “greatest potential” of all litter to cause harm to the environment, wildlife, and humans.
Most of what I picked up along the sidewalk were beer cans and bottles, most likely a result of typical college weekend activities. The litter made a trail directly to O’Connors. According to data provided by Keep America Beautiful, roadways near commercial establishments and convenience stores were both 11% more littered than other roadways.
Washington College is situated along the Chester River, and with the addition of the new Hodson Boathouse and Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall, our campus now touches the water itself. Littering in this context directly impacts the waterway in multiple ways. According to the EPA, “This debris harms physical habitats, transports chemical pollutants, threatens aquatic life, and interferes with human uses of river, marine and coastal environments.”
Eventually, all our local litter will make its way to the Chester, then the Chesapeake Bay, and ultimately, the Atlantic Ocean. The EPA said that 80% of marine litter found on coastlines during beach clean-ups could be traced back to land-based sources.
The most effective way to combat littering is at the individual level. Keep America Beautiful writes that as much as 85% of littering behavior can be attributed to a single person, as opposed to 15% to the context of the littering incident. Even more concerning, 81% of observed littering acts were intentional. The nonprofit’s analysis also found that young people are most likely to litter.
How often do you see trash floating in the Chester, or along the side of the road, or even on the campus pathways on your way to class? When you start to notice the amount of waste we don’t dispose of, you won’t be able to un-see it.
The simplest solution? Stop littering. If you finish your drink before you reach your destination, hold on to the can or bottle just a little bit longer until you can get to a proper receptacle. And if you see trash when you’re outside, stop to pick it up. It only takes a few seconds to do, and the world will be a cleaner place for it.
We need to be better environmental stewards than this, WC. The health of our world is at stake.