If you have ever visited a local, state, or federal park or forest, this is for you. Whatever the reason for visiting, we all are provided beautiful outdoor areas for recreation provided to us through public land. We pay for this public land with our taxes. Since we are paying for this land, I would like to point out that we are wasting our own money.

Trash! It is everywhere in our parks!

You might think to yourself, “I don’t litter, so I don’t have to worry about reading this.” Well, I hate to say it, but just because you are not part of the problem doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be part of the solution.

In modern society, with our rapid increases in technology and the digital world, we have lost our sense of community and the pride that comes from that. There was a time when everyone in a neighborhood used to know everyone in that neighborhood. It seems that today most people only familiarize themselves with one or two people in the neighborhood, and conveniently we all have cars, so we meet our friends elsewhere. This lack of tight-knit local communities has brought about a lack of self-accountability and responsibility for the land on which we live.

We care about our own houses and our own yards and what other people might think when they drive by our own property. But what happened to the days when, if you needed a cup of sugar or some milk or eggs, you went to the neighbors to borrow some? We simply hop in our cars and run to the local supermarket and get whatever we need, almost whenever we want.

We don’t want to inconvenience anybody else, so we do it all ourselves. That is all fine and dandy when we are at home. Society is ever more accepting of people living their lives how they want to live them and leaving each other to do that.
But when it comes to our public lands, that lack of socialization becomes a problem. America is the melting pot. Our diversity of culture and backgrounds is unlike anywhere else in the world. Combine that with a lack of community, and now there is great potential for misunderstanding and misinformation. Instead of asking our neighbors for a cup of sugar, we are tossing our empty sugar bag in their front yard.

No matter where in the world you are, nature is a beautiful escape from the rushing around in our fast-paced society. No matter what your reason for getting outside and enjoying nature, I would assume that the majority would agree they don’t want to see trash scattered about in their favorite picnic area or hiking trail.

But the trash is everywhere. People from all walks of life are getting outside and enjoying the beautiful public lands provided for us. That means that trash is being left all over these public lands. It is a problem that may be impossible to eliminate, but we can minimize it. When we visit these public lands, we should remember that we pay for these public lands.

Leaving any trash on public land is just about the same as walking to your neighbor’s house, putting your trash in their lawn, and expecting them to clean it up and to pay the fees for disposal. Wouldn’t that be great?

That is what is happening. People visit our state parks, and leave trash scattered about with no remorse. Are they thinking about the fact that when they leave a park trashed, instead of paying taxes to protect, preserve, maintain, and improve our parks, they are paying taxes for trash pickup?

A majority of Connecticut’s DEEP park staff is seasonal employees, usually just out of high school or college students looking to work for the summer doing a job in a field that they are passionate about. These young employees have a strong work ethic and a desire to improve our public lands. Little do they know that when they accept employment at a state park, a huge amount of their time will be spent picking up trash left behind by the daily visitors.

It is not uncommon for state park staff to spend every Friday cleaning the parks, so that they look presentable to the vacationing crowds that visits on the weekends. Each Saturday and Sunday morning prior to the daily rush is also spent picking up trash so visitors can have a beautiful natural environment in which to spend their time. Then on Monday, when the rush of visitors has left the parks and gone back to work, park staff, yet again, spends another day devoted to picking up trash.

No matter how much the litter laws are enforced, and no matter how much time is spent cleaning up the messes left on public land, there will always be more trash to pick up tomorrow. Is it a social issue? Is it an issue of respect? Could this issue be resolved through education and awareness?

The reasons why people choose to work for the state parks are to help preserve, protect, maintain, and improve our public lands and the environment, not to pick up trash. Park staff want to help you spend your tax dollars on improving our parks.

Pick up after yourselves and hold others accountable. If you see something, say something. Or, at the very least, carry-out what you carry-in. Be a good neighbor. Clean up after yourself and help keep public lands clean and enjoyable for everyone.

Peter Wilson is a student at Goodwin College.

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6 Comments

  1. “… at the very least, carry-out what you carry-in. Be a good neighbor.”

    Better still, carry out a bit more than you carried in.

    I see roadside trash on my residential street daily – most of which likely comes from my neighbors up the street who are too lazy to simply hold it until they get home or until they get to a trash can at work.

    Disgusting.

    1. I hope you bother to pick it up yourself. It isn’t fair, but we all have to get to work on solving the problem.

  2. It’s not just in the parks! The streets of our towns and cities are also littered with fast food and drink containers, and especially mini-liquor bottles (unfortunately not included in the revised bottle bill). Sometimes it is right in front of our houses, but more often it is on sections of street where no house faces. We like walking in our neighborhood, but we don’t like seeing trash. So whenever we walk we go prepared to clean up. We carry several trash bags, work gloves and a long-handled picker to fish trash out of hard to reach places. IMHO we need to emphasize the need to stop littering early in our schools, and all of us get involved in cleaning it up. Take responsibility for trash left in front of your own house at least, though it may be at the curb or in the street, and get into the habit of picking up trash that others have left. Yes, I know it is unfair, but perhaps our example will change the attitudes of some who think littering is OK. At the very least it will make our neighborhoods more attractive.

    1. Where I live, in a part of New Haven where the houses and other buildings are generally well kept, people toss fast-food bags, beer cans, and all sorts of other trash from their cars. This happens on roads in beautiful East Rock Park (where a volunteer group has trouble keeping with the frequent littering) and it happens on residential streets. Thirty to 50 years ago, anti-littering campaigns were common in the US. We need anti-littering campaigns again. A good place to start is in the public schools. If schools were to try to make students more conscious about littering, I’m sure that some of the students would spread the message to parents and other adults.

  3. Disagree. America is no longer a melting pot.you can t mix water and oil.cultures from 3rd world countries won t insimulat Muslims won t mix with Christian sociaty unlike the Jews and Christians.I give the USA less then 50 years before it collapses

  4. Peter, it’s very interesting why some people litter and others don’t. There are studies that look at this issue as to “why” people litter. Interestingly, they found that “if cities put trash or recycling containers in public spaces, people start doing the right thing again,” notes Lou Blouin in an article in The Allegheny Front titled, The Psychology of Littering (January 8, 2016). Social psychologist Wesley Schultz from the California State University said the “basic assumption we make about litterers is totally wrong—namely, that people who litter, just do it because they don’t care.” It seems that people will more than likely do the right thing if they don’t have to lug around their garbage. Making it more convenient seems to be one key to helping eliminate litter.

    The article further delves into the psyche of a litterer by saying ““The presence of existing litter was strongly predictive of littering behavior. So, if you’re in a place that’s already highly littered, you’re much more likely to litter than if you’re in a place that’s clean or free of litter.”

    Sometimes understanding the reasons behind a problem, help to solve a problem. I’m not giving the litterer a free pass here, but the first step is to understand why, then implement successful strategies to help with the issue of littering.

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