Tehee: Is litter in Fresno collective low self-esteem?

The Fresno BeeMay 9, 2013 

I've got garbage on my mind, and it has nothing to do with the Measure G vote coming up in June.

No, this is about a McDonald's cup.

I saw it in the bushes outside my apartment complex for a week and never thought to pick it up. I live a busy life and had places to go, or maybe I'm just a terrible person who didn't care enough to spend 30 seconds cleaning up.

When I finally did throw that cup away, it was because I realized no one else had.

That came as a revelation.

Since the cup incident, I've become near-obsessed with litter. I can't drive down the street -- much less bike or walk -- without seeing trash in the gutters and on the sidewalks. The streets are littered -- literally -- with bottle caps and flattened Styrofoam cups, torn paper bags and random strips of plastic. Let's not even start with the cigarette butts (and they say smoking has fallen out of fashion).

Some other observations:

Not to pick on anyone, but McDonald's customers don't seem to use trash cans. One billion served and not a one wrapper or cup made it to the waste bin. That's an overstatement, I know, but I'm worked up, so forgive me. Most of the litter I see is related to food: cardboard packaging and the like. A large percentage is marked with the golden arches, although Starbucks is a close second -- and its drinkers tend to travel in packs.

Anything of value gets picked up. You don't see any aluminum cans or plastic bottles. Plastic bags, however, you'll find floating through the air on a breeze.

It's the small things. Consider this:

There is this massive flotilla of garbage out in the Pacific Ocean. It's known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, and it's full of the tiniest particles of plastics, chemical sludge and other cast-off debris.

Parts of our city are like that -- just bits of chewed up straws and bread clips, dead batteries and business cards.

Maybe this is all an extension of a collective case of low self-esteem. What it does show is that we have a poor reflection of our sense of place.

No one would ever admit to throwing a McDonald's cup in the bushes, and I've never seen anyone do it that I can remember. At least one friend blames it on "those darn kids today," which seems wildly unfair.

But that litter is coming from somewhere.

It stays because we're all so good at passing the buck, assuming it's someone else's problem. For my part, I've taken to picking the stuff up when I see it.

Yes, it takes a second or two, and I even have to bend over some, but it's easier than living with myself if I just walk on by.

I'm not suggesting that we all start walking around with garbage bags and special gloves (though you'll probably want special gloves). You could meet up with your neighbors for a once-a-month cleanup. Lots of neighborhoods have them.

While voters are debating the city's trash issues, we should at least take some ownership for our own behavior.

The reporter can be reached at jtehee@fresnobee.com, at (559) 441-6479 or on Twitter @JoshuaTehee

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