People Start Pollution, People Can Stop It.

Remember the Keep America Beautiful public service announcements showing the "Crying Indian?" If you don't, you must have been born past the early 70s. Anyway, the message was "People Start Pollution, People Can Stop It." This morning, I flashed back to this PSA.

I was driving the two mile stretch of four lane road between my house and my office when I noticed a Dollar General Store bag containing unidentified material lying in the road. That yellow bag boosted my awareness of the roadside in general where I saw way more litter than I expected. Either a garage truck blew a constant stream of trash onto the shoulders or I've become blind to the litter. Sadly, I believe the latter is true. My awareness awakened, the sight evoked the image of a single tear falling down the cheeks of Iron Eyes Cody. I felt sad for my city in that moment. Incidentally, old Iron Eyes was reportedly actually of Italian decent. But I digress.

I think of the terms disposable society or throw-away society that refer to our rampant consumerism, especially in the U.S. We think that we have to have shiny and new - and more. Or that in the name of convenience, disposable items are a must. Come on - disposable toilet brushes? The result is ever-mounting garbage. The summer animated film WALL-E was about our disposable society.

I have to admit that I unwittingly fall prey to the belief that if something is scratched, dented, used, or imperfect in some way, I should just toss it away and buy another. I work at that, by the way, thinking through my options of repairing or reusing or doing without. I mean, do I really need completely matching silverware, all in multiples of twelve? Isn't it okay to have one spoon made slightly imperfect by the garbage disposal? I'm by no means perfect. In fact I'm far from it. Anyway, in spite of my habit of tossing stuff, I've never felt like I can just throw whatever it is, from a straw wrapper to a used sofa, out into public - or private - spaces. It just seems like such gross display of disrespect for myself, my community and the planet.

Here's what I wonder: How does all that trash get to the sides of the road? Is it blown there from trash trucks? Is it mostly from people tossing cups, fast food wrappers and diapers out of their passing cars? What makes people think it is okay to toss trash on the roads anyway? Who is responsible for cleaning up the litter?

On a somewhat related note, there is an article in the current issue of Scientific American Mind that discusses the possible correlation between rising rates of depression and our society's increasing dependence on conveniences that reduce the challenges of surviving. Perhaps our disposable society has farther reaching effects than just on the environment.