What does it mean when people litter?
I was in a coffee shop, drinking coffee and working on my computer. Through the wall of windows next to my table I saw a stylish young woman, driving her BMW in the drive-through lane, intentionally drop candy wrappers outside of her very nice SUV. Her arm was hanging outside the window. She was making sure she looked OK in her reflection from the glass and, before she moved ahead to the drive-up window, she dropped her candy wrappings in a sneaky way. It was not an accident. Before I could get up and confront her, she moved ahead and the wrappers blew away.
Picking up litter has been a mild compulsion of mine for the past few years. It started with the twice a day walk I took with my loyal dog, Abbey. In the beautiful neighborhoods of Castle Rock and Castle Pines, I would do my part to pick up candy wrappers that kids dropped on the way to school and newspapers that blew out of neighbors trash cans on windy days.
I understand that sometimes we accidentally litter. When I take the top down on my Jeep Wrangler, I attempt to have all the paper picked up inside my Jeep, but I’ve had receipts and business cars fly out the open top while I’m heading down the highway at the speed limit. One time I was summiting a fourteener on a very windy day. The wrapper from my energy bar was caught by a gust of wind and flew over the face of the mountain. “Lord, if you want me to pick it up, you will have to blow it back to me.” He did not, but I think I have picked up a lot more trash than I have littered.
What I don’t understand is why there is litter that, like the young woman in the BMW, has been intentionally cast off with no regard for others, the natural beauty of our community or the inefficient labor that is required of others. Since I have been paying attention to this issue for a few years I have calculated that I have picked up thousands of items of litter, much of it “intentional litter.” Fast food cups and bags, beer and soft drink cans, energy drink bottles and cigarette butts and empty packs are the most common. It appears that they have been thrown out of cars or thoughtlessly dropped by lazy people who didn’t want to carry them as far as a trash can. This kind of litter is all over the high school grounds, around coffee shop parking lots that boast of being “green” and restaurants that advertise their food has integrity. Grocery store parking lots also get pretty messy with intentional, discourteous and selfish litter.
Litter is a sign of selfishness and weakness. People become too selfish to care about anyone or anything else. Their doctrine on environmentalism is worthless because they will not even care for their little place on the planet. Even more feel small, as if their little bit of litter will not matter, or that picking up a piece of someone else’s offence will not make a difference. Both are significant indicators that people need to have their conscience sensitized to care about their world, others and their own worth and potential.
The holy scriptures are full of references to gardens, plants, mountains, rivers, seas, animals all who exist in a orderly system designed and gifted by the creator of it all. We are challenged to care for it and to care for others. When a healthy spiritual environment is produced by the churches of our town, sensitivity to care and make a difference is revealed in things like litter.
Entering the grocery store, a woman walking in front of me, bent over to pick up a piece of trash in the parking lot. I thanked her and we agreed we were “partners against litter.” If every person who attends church this Sunday was careful to do the same, we might do more than keep our town beautiful. We may correct a much deeper problem when we discover what littering means.
Dan Hettinger is founder of the Jakin Group, a ministry of encouragement and chaplain with Hospice of Saint John. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.