The Language of Litter

In the early years we lived on this place, the “Lori measuring stick” ruled as I made my weekly rounds in the electric buggy, picking up neighborhood trash on our ten acres. I ranted and grumbled about the carelessness of our neighbor’s lack of trash disposal. I had expectations about how people should respectfully keep up the appearance of their yards and housing. Because other’s did not treat trash the way I was brought up to, I had a real mess of ill thoughts floating around in my head each week as I picked up all sorts of discarded rubble.  Didn’t people know to bag their loose trash? Why did people just toss litter from their cars as they drove down the streets? And why on earth would people chunk large items of rubbish like old bicycles, tires, busted flower pots, garden hoses, and broken lawn chairs, over the alley fence into our woods?

This view might help in understanding the boundary lines where we concentrate on trash pick up. I also noted the area where a neighbor dumps deer discards. He harvests deer at another location during hunting season, and dumps the carcass near the fence where our property lines meet after he cleans and butchers them. We pick up the bones as we find them in order to deter drawing coyotes to the area.
View of City Park from the orchard fence.
View along north fence of pecan orchard.
Alley view looking west. Our property is on the right.
This is the SW corner of the alley area. People used to dump large items back here. Using game cameras, we once caught a neighbor dumping shrubs and stump debris on our side of the fence. I lost my temper the day I confronted him, but it never happened again.
This area is no longer a dumping area for passersby in the alley. I patrol it bi-weekly and we keep watch with game cameras.

As time went on and the trash floating about the property was more under control, I began to see beyond my own discontent about community trash. I noticed the effects of human discards on the environment and, specifically, on wildlife. I found birds entangled in string or ribbon from balloons, and in a farmer’s discarded hay bale netting. I once found a snake that had suffocated in a plastic bottle. And of course I had witnessed Daisy deer pick up shiny trash out of curiosity – usually she spit the garbage out, but a few times she ingested it. Sometimes, I discovered small bits of refuse in fox and coyote scat. And one day while walking in the woods behind our home, I discovered a fox hole with lots of meat packaging, fast food, and snack bags littering the immediate area. It dawned on me then, that wildlife was bringing some of the trash on our property. My attitude about people’s reckless regard for the land and the wildlife that lived here got even worse. Did I live among idiots? Were people lazy and just did not care about the impact on our environment?

This neighbor allows their three dogs to tear up all sorts of furniture and trash, which south winds blow through our fence into the woods. Lately they’ve had a skunk problem. After killing them, they throw the dead bodies along our fence line.
This wheat field is littered with lots of trash. The south winds carry most of that onto our property. It’s endless work collecting it.
Sometimes I take a poke in the eye trying to get to trash in the weeds and plant life.
The busy road by the city park is fraught with beer and liquor bottles. I occasionally find boxed beer hidden in our wild grapevine in the alley. I suspect a buyer leaves it for a minor to pickup, and I just happen to get to it first (usually when I’m mowing). Finder’s keepers I say!! By the way, don’t ask me how I would know about minors finding buyers for alcohol…
The farmer who tends to the fields to the west and south must like Taco Mayo coffee. I find these cups often as I cross the fields on hikes to the river. I smile when I see the quotes. At least they’re inspiring!
This cake container has become a green house of sorts for the weeds growing under it. Nature found a way to utilize the plastic. This blew from the housing addition south of our orchard property.
Another tossed coffee cup from Taco Mayo in another wheat field.
The old river channel gets a lot of litter from the bridge crossing at the busy road. It’s very difficult to reach most of the trash down there as it’s a snarl of vine and brambles, not to mention poison ivy and snakes!
This is a common sight in our woodlands and everywhere on the property. I really wish these types of bags would be banned.
I found it strange to find a hanger on the fence line near the slough.

When we purchased the fifty-two acres of pecan property, the range of trash pickup increased tremendously. At first the job was so great that FD and I took buggy rides around the property lines, filling fifty-gallon trash bags. With the city park to our north along a very busy road, and a Walmart Super Center and a new housing addition along the south fence lines of the orchard property, the task seemed overwhelming at first. After almost two years, the job is more manageable and most of the time I do the trash collecting job alone, except on holidays or after events when the city park just across the road to the north sees increased activity. We still have a lot of agricultural trash to deal with on the property – old tires, hydraulic hoses, metal from old implements, wire fencing, and plastic waste from livestock buckets and feeders. Cleaning up all that is a bigger task, and one we simply have not found the time to achieve.

It did not take me long to realize my anger and irritation about the issue of human litter only served to keep me twisted up. Rather than gripe and complain about something I could never control, I accepted that cleaning up after others was part of being a steward of the land. Over time, I just picked up the debris and looked for the silver lining in the work before me. I was the lucky person to be working outdoors in nature. It was good exercise. I learned about people’s eating and drinking habits, and made discoveries about other aspects of people’s lifestyles. It could be rather entertaining sometimes. And best of all, I was improving the environment.

Trash picked up last weekend, that blew over from the park .
I find shoe soles of shoes quite often in the orchard pasture. I imagine they wash down from the city park or maybe the river during heavy rains and flooding.
A very weathered Doritos chip bag, silted into the earth by rain over time.
Our property is littered with dozens of old tires. Someday we will have to deal with this problem. Many are buried in the dirt from years of being silted in by flood waters.
A fallen soldier found on the buggy path to the canyon. I wonder if this belonged to one of FD’s siblings or cousins years ago?
I found this gruesome scene down at the river one afternoon. Apparently this headless female has been decomposing for many years by the looks of that leg! I wonder what brand of panties she’s wearing – they seem to be indestructible!
Collection of trash near old river channel.
The previous owner of the orchard filled this ravine on the property with lots of farm trash. We will have to either bury this or clean it up someday. I picked up the pink Mylar balloon in the lower left corner. We find Mylar balloons on a daily basis. These should be banned, as should all balloons.
I found this blue styrofoam litter down near the river last week. The bright color was easy to spot from a distance. The pretty color lured me that direction out of curiosity.
I suspect this glove belonged to the poacher hunter I spotted last fall. It was in the precise area I saw him walking in November, decked out in his camouflage.
A child’s shoe, down by the river.
I found this insole in the orchard near the slough.

Most of the time, FD and I are both in the habit of tucking a trash bag in a pocket and collecting what we find on hikes to the river, and I always carry a bucket or bag as I work in various locations on the property. Last week I meandered off to the wheat field south of our orchard property, between the housing addition and Walmart. I picked up the loose trash that had collected along the wheat field just on the other side of our fence. With warm breezes and wind from the south over the spring and summer months, we will eventually get the loose trash that blows from that area into our woodlands. I think of it as preventive conservation, to nab the trash before it finds its way on our side of the fence.

Squirrels often use trash to line their nests. This is Francesca and Buddy, two orphans we raised after we accidentally disturbed their home. https://littlesundog.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/taking-down-a-widow-maker/  Their mama sure did make a pretty nest with Walmart bags and wood shavings.

My mind no longer festers with ugly thoughts about the people who carelessly and thoughtlessly discard their trash. Sometimes the trash speaks to me, bringing a chuckle or a thought for pondering. Sometimes I think up a story about how some item of trash might have ended up where it did. There are times I marvel at the creativity of birds and mammals who utilize human trash in their nests and shelters. Every once in a while, I am personally rewarded for my efforts by finding something I can use.

Occasionally, we find old bottles partially buried in dirt. Last week I found this minion toy in our fence line across from the city park. I chuckled thinking I sure felt like a minion picking up all of that trash! Especially when some jerk drove by and threw a plastic pop container my way and said, “Here’s another one!!”, as it landed in the ditch. I keep the soldier toy around to remind me that I am a fearless protector of the land and the wildlife that lives here. The Eeyore patch was one I found discarded in the Walmart parking lot one morning. It reminds me that my negative Eeyore tendencies do not have to rule. I picked up the smurf artist last week as I gathered trash in the ditch along the city park road.  I smiled and thought about how we are all artists of the landscape, when we create something better.

© 2018 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 


37 thoughts on “The Language of Litter

  1. I can empathize; we have the same problem. Our property fronts what began as a dirt road, then gravel, then asphalt. It is a 2-lane road and when we moved here it was bucolic. But it’s not anymore. We are sandwiched between two areas of wineries and distilleries and bars, so we get a lot of alcohol and food containers. I also see us as stewards… we try to keep the property clean (even if it does mean cleaning up after others who should be able to clean up after themselves), and we co-exist with the wildlife in the most humane way possible. I consider myself lucky that I live on this property and not in one of the zero-lot-line homes down the road. I’m so glad you found the toy soldier. We found one about 13 years ago, cleaned him up, gave him my father’s name and put him in my car on the dashboard. We consider him our protector, and he’s done a good job. He has kinda been our lucky penny.

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    1. Isn’t it great when you find a little treasure like the soldier, that you can connect with? That Eeyore patch was an appropriate find for me. I used to be so negative – it’s how I grew up, always expecting the worst. I wrote about that patch in this post: https://littlesundog.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/discovering-the-eeyore-in-me/

      I suppose there is a small army of folks who are good stewards of the land. Thank you for doing your part, in your neck of the woods. 🙂

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    1. Oh, it took a long time to soften my attitude. I still don’t feel bad about the day I chewed out the alley neighbor who I caught throwing stumps and roots over our fence. He deserved the wrath of this angry woman! Sometimes it takes losing your cool for people to take notice!

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  2. Whoo boy all that trash would drive me bananas. I pick up trash behind my fence line but it is nothing to the extent of yours. I suppose you will be a trash picker for as long as you live there. As you say, being a steward of the land does have some compensation. Actually you are being a good citizen but gee whiz the folks around you don’t seem to care. It looks like you have a full time job as garbage collector.

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    1. You’ve got that right, Yvonne… there are probably many of us out there who are trash pickers, mostly because we love the land and try to be good stewards. When I was a kid, there was a lot of talk in school to “Keep America Beautiful” and my favorite was Smokey Bear’s slogan, “Only YOU can prevent wildfires (or forest fires). Some of the school clubs sponsored so many miles of highway or areas of town for trash pickup. I’m not sure any of that is taught in school or at home anymore. It’s a shame people do not think of the effects of waste on the environment and wildlife.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That is SO depressing. Except for the baby squirrels which helped to squelch my ire. I don’t know how you handle it. We deal with exactly the same thing in France (just in case you were thinking it was an American problem) only we have a very small property and the perpetrators are just one family. But every time, it just makes my blood boil. Hang in there.

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    1. It’s interesting to discover you have the same trouble in France. I often wonder about other regions of the world and how trash is dealt with. I blogged long ago about the albatross population of Midway Island: https://littlesundog.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/midway-an-unspoken-message-from-the-albatross/. The video (below) is rather disturbing to watch, and not for the faint of heart, but I feel every person should understand what our our careless disposal and continued use of plastics costs the environment and our wildlife population. http://www.albatrossthefilm.com/trailer/

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  4. Great article Lori about our ability to chose to change the way we think and be happier. I pick up trash on the fields on my walls, mainly thrown away by local teenagers I think, but what I see is nothing compared with your experience.
    I think you’ve moved on from being Eeyore. You’re far more of a Tigger these days xxx.

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    1. Ha ha! Well, thank you, Henrie! I feel more like Tigger these days. I see a few people around town who walk with sacks picking up trash. I appreciate their efforts, since I understand the work. This particular city is an eyesore as it is. My heart really sinks, though, when I see it in the countryside. This part of the country is beautiful with the red soil and heavy vegetation… and there’s nothing worse than trash littering the roadsides and fields.

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  5. Bravo for turning around your attitude, and for persevering, Lori. I am often incredulous at the amount of rubbish I see on my walks. Like you, I sometimes carry a bag with me to put the trash into and dispose of it. I’ve even taken photos of it at times as well…like the time I found a music stand. WTH? It is a shame, but no sense letting it ruin our day just because some ignorant person has defiled the land. That idiot that threw the pop bottle your way would have really annoyed me though. Some people just don’t care about anything. Presumably they get to live a pretty crappy life as a result. xx

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    1. Whoever that was that sped by in his shiny, red sports car, flinging the plastic bottle my way, surely will have a visit from our friend Karma someday!

      My attitude has often been the very thing that motivated me to change. It’s a terrible thing to keep festered up and angry over situations or people we have no control over. I have been making great strides in the last couple of years of just letting those things go. In the end, it is the good that we do and promote that is an inspiration to others. We can’t make others care or change.

      Don’t you wish you knew the story behind the music stand? I think a lot about the stories behind some of the more interesting trash and discards that I find.

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  6. Well, here we say, “Don’t mess with Texas.” It is very discomforting to see all that trash. It would make me upset as well. But as you said, it’s better to accept it than to live unhappy. God bless.

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    1. I love that Texas motto! Yes, it took me a while to get over my upset and anger, but it serves no good purpose. I do get a lot of joy in being outdoors most of the year… and if that means I pick up trash and deal with other people’s laziness, then I can DO it!! Blessing to you too, Phyllis.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think it’s fantastic that your turned your irritation and anger into positive action. But I’m sorry about all that litter. I would feel frustrated, too. But what fun in all of that mess to find some treasures. Thank you for working so hard to keep your area of this world clean.

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    1. Most of my trash treasures are old bottles. Sometimes very old soda pop bottles turn up. I have found by putting a few pebbles of gravel or fine rock in the bottle with hot water and shaking, I can get the old dirt and green residue out quite easily. Most bottles wash up from river floods. FD has found quite a few medicinal bottles in the woods behind our house. His grandparents used to let the city dump asphalt and cement along the canyon walls to help prevent erosion. In that we find occasional treasures and trinkets.

      I am also glad to find some good chuckles in my work… and of course the camera makes it fun too.

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    1. Thank you! We do see programs like that along the highways here. I know there are a few folks who offer their time picking up trash here in the community. It would be great if more people were interested in keeping our country/world beautiful.

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  8. That’s one thing that really bugs me, littering. I saw something on the news last night about a diver off the coast of Bali. There was more plastic there than fish. An ocean once know for inhabiting string rays, during the episode he only saw one. Your post reminded me of that. Very sad. My husband and I used to do a lot more walking on our hike and bike trail. We carried a plastic bag as well. You’re ahead of me with your mind not festering. It still really bothers me. Deep breath. Wonderful photos, including window display.

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    1. I suppose my mind is worn out from a lifetime of festering over things – especially family. It’s my expectation of kindness and responsibility that gets me in trouble usually. I cannot help people (especially when they do not ask for it) and I cannot change anything except by being a good example.

      With all of the good you do with rescue and your books, you inspire others. I hope when I finally get my book written some day that I will follow your example and use proceeds to help wildlife. That will be our hope one day with this property as well. FD and I want to give back to nature, and leave a sanctuary for the wild things that have brought us so much joy.

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  9. I don’t have any way to really measure this, or confirm it, but my impression is that, at least in my part of Texas, things have been getting better when it comes to trash. For one thing, there are highly publicized twice-a-year “trash bashes” that bring out hundreds of people to clean bayous, shorelines, and such. The publicity both before and after does help to remind people of their responsibilities. And in some places, creative ways of minimizing trash have been instituted. For example, up on the Frio River, where tubing is the thing, anyone going on the river is given a free yellow net trash bag that’s waterproof, and asked to keep their beer cans and such in the bag, and then dispose of it at the end of the day.

    The biggest problem is at the boat ramps and out-of-the-way fishing spots — and the beaches, of course. And I go absolutely nuts when I see that someone’s tossed a bag of trash out of their car along the road. I just don’t understand it. The most infuriating was the day I watched a guy in an F250 with an environmental company’s logo on the side toss a water bottle. I followed him, got the license number, and called the company. Whether they did anything, I’ll never know, but it made me feel better.

    I love your blue bottle. I found a tiny, ruby-red glass bottle on the prairie one day. It cleaned up beautifully, and I really like it. One man’s trash, another woman’s treasure, and all that.

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    1. Oh, that ruby-red glass bottle would have been a real find! Red glass isn’t all that common. I once found a large glass jug along the river, and though it may not have been very old, weathering and time had produced a beautiful iridescence to the glass, and it looked quite aged. I use it for decor.

      I’ve noticed that fishers are some of the most problematic litterers in the country. When I took my nephew, Sid, fishing in Oklahoma a year ago, we were amazed at the trash floating in and around the lakes in the Wichita Mountain area. Even on the hiking trails people had ditched their soda bottles and chip bags, despite many trash containers located at points of entry to the refuge and trails. Here, much of our orchard trash comes from the city park when the wind is out of the north. I go out twice a week to the ditch to pick up what blows across the road. And that housing addition to the south is really becoming a problem. That ends up all over our woodlands and the beautiful old river channel. Thanks to the Oklahoma winds, that will continue to be a problem as long as we have dumpers.

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  10. I happened to analyze much of the trash that we pick up in the San Lorenzo River and along Highway 9 because some people want to blame it on other people, and others want to blame it on others and so on. In our situation, most of the trash was the sort that likely blew from open pick ups driving down Highway 9. In fact, almost all of it was the sort that could be transported by wind. I would guess that much of is was pulled out of trash cans by coons, and then simply blew away. I doubt that much of it was dumped intentionally. However, we do find trash piles sometimes. When I lived in town, I would occasionally find trash dumped in my dumpster after it was dumped but before I could move it into the trash yard. I sometimes found junk mail, and a few times, I returned the trash to the home from which it originated. At the farm, I found trash dumped from the road with an address right down the road – twice. The third time, I reported it to the sheriff.

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    1. You triggered a thought when you mentioned investigating trash. We have a home health care group across the street (in a residential area) that is horrible about not putting their trash in bags or shredding documents. We find latex examination gloves, face masks, personal patient documents, and loads of candy wrappers and fast food packaging all over our fence line, especially on trash day. If it’s windy, those items are often found a block away near my mom-in-laws front gate. I’ve approached the people about the trash, and they say they’ll bag it but it hasn’t happened. It’s aggravating. I know the whole neighborhood has to get the trash from their sloppiness and lazy attitude. I wonder how the folks whose personal medical records are flying around the neighborhood would feel if they knew it was out there for everyone to see?

      You sound a lot like me… I report things when I’ve had enough.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh, I love your last line.
    All depends on your perspective and attitude ( and desire not to go nuts. Wish plastic bags were outlawed along with disposable cups. Plain paper and cloth eventually decomposes. Big rains do wash the oddest things down gullies.
    Thanks for the smiles viewing your little rescues arrange in a still life. (Ever notice how that next to last word offer multiple meanings – both cool one? hmmm. )
    Saw a couple of deer along pine gully trail yesterday – smart enough to be quite safe inside the fenced Girl Scout property…where we also saw one of their horses working out on a treadmill. Life – stranger than fiction.

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    1. Ha ha! Yes, Life can be stranger than fiction. I suppose on the bright side it gives us something to chuckle over or something to ponder greatly about.

      There is a real problem with drainage from the Walmart, High School and the new housing addition. It won’t be long and we’ll have a giant gully to the south of our property. So far we haven’t minded the runoff, as it has helped irrigate our property a bit. I try to keep the trash picked up south of our fence line, that way when it rains not so much pours into our orchard and pasture. There is another huge cut just to the west of our land, and now it’s pouring into the “island” area, making its way to the river. I suppose when it becomes a problem for the farmer, they’ll take action.

      I couldn’t believe it but the other night we found on the game camera, a coyote running through the west end, and just 30 feet behind it a deer was standing, just watching the coyote. I thought deer always ran from the coyotes. This is a very interesting observation.

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  12. Hi Lori, It felt a bit strange hitting the ‘like’ button for this and your previous post. Clearly there are disadvantages to being on a rural property on the edge of suburbia as you have to deal with the throw away mentality of some people who don’t care that they are messing up someone else’s home be they human or a wild creature. I am sure these people think they are protected by anonymity as I can’t imagine them tossing their garbage or animal refuse over the fences of their immediate suburban neighbours. Good on you for taking on your neighbour when you had proof he was dumping on your land.

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    1. Margaret, I have found the game cameras to be as much help in discovering human trashing and trespassing as in discovering what wildlife frequents the area, especially during the night hours. It’s interesting to note that despite having actual video footage of this man dumping over the fence, he still denied doing it! I always think confronting someone face to face is the best way to solve a problem – and of course in a civil manner. But I think long gone are the days when people consider their contribution to the problem of trash. In our home, FD and I try to make conscious choices about what we buy so that we do not contribute to more plastics in the landfills. It would be nice if people could just get to the point of not littering the landscape and countryside. That stuff floats around everywhere.

      As for neighbors, most people around here don’t even try to get to know their neighbors so it is easy to dump and not acknowledge how it affects those around them.

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  13. Ha! Ha!! The last picture made my day! Such cool toys; wonder why anyone would want to chuck them! That said, it’s beyond me to understand why people would litter. It’s just the mindset, I guess and it’s all over the world! Pathetic!

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    1. I think awareness is so important. The more trash I’ve had to pick up, the more I realize what a problem it is. If we gave kids a hands-on experience of picking up trash, and visiting the landfills, they might understand the current and long-term crises. There are some great videos out that show the larger world problem of trash and disposal. It’s overwhelming when you think about it.

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  14. I put off looking closely for a long time, and now I can see why. My first thought was, that’s not your world, oh no, that’s not what I come to see and be uplifted by. But as I looked, and read slowly (there’s no ” between the lines” here; you say it all, show and tell; but it takes time to listen and understand; big stuff this)– as I followed along I was changed again. Your work has that effect. It builds, patiently and carefully, to memorable conclusions, or sometimes just to good memories, which are enough.

    This is an important document you made. It should be exhibited all over. And the small additions of humor, like saying how picking up other people’s trash “could be rather entertaining sometimes,” make the whole thing more powerful. It’s a version of the human comedy, where tragedy is in the wings but held off so far by an awareness of the complexity and richness and variety of life expressions. I mean, if even the squirrels can make something out of trash, what’s to worry? Today. Tomorrow? Another day.

    Nice work. I keep seeing in my mind that child ‘s shoe, and the soldier toy, and hearing “Here’s another one!!” but it was not a toy and he not a child (well. . .) You are doing something good for our world, and I hope for all of the children.

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    1. Thank you so much, Albert. You bring so much to your comments, perhaps things I didn’t realize when I wrote the piece. This post about trash has been a long time coming. Since I have picked up trash on this place for more than ten years, I have had a long time to grumble about it before I decided to change my attitude and see the message. I like how you wondered, “if even the squirrels can make something out of trash, what’s to worry?”
      I do think about what I am putting in the land fills, and I do wonder what kind of world we are leaving for our children. And yet I know young people who could care less about the refuse situation or the way we litter our environment. I really believe it is through education that we come to understand what we are creating here. Perhaps school field trips to landfills and refuse processing centers, and watching documentaries on the effects of trash on wildlife and the environment. I hope as a people, we are evolved enough to understand what we’re creating, and that we care enough to do something to change it.

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