I've lived in the same rental unit for over two years and I make the same walk to work and back every day, rain or shine. Thanks to that experience I can draw from memory the labels of every single brand of bumwine and bottom shelf hard liquor available for sale in this state. Ditto every fast food wrapper, quasi-generic brand of soda, and fried salt snack known to man. Oh, and for good measure, dozens of previously unheard of "state minimum" cigarette brands.

I lived in the Midwest for decades before I moved here, so very little surprised me about this place. The boiling summers, the arctic winters, the flatness, the omnipresence of ranch dressing and bland food – I'd seen it all before. One thing I wasn't prepared for is how dirty everything is. I've never seen so much litter in my life. On the rare occasions that anyone cleans any of it up – by which I mean "When I take a garbage bag and walk a few blocks picking up trash and hoping that you can't get herpes from touching a 40" – it's back again in a day or two. All of the fun stuff that accompanies urban decay – the abandoned buildings, the graffiti, the boarded windows – is here in the expected amount and doesn't really faze me. But I'm still not used to the "Everywhere is a trash can" thing.

Oddly enough the available research does not establish much of a correlation between poverty and littering. It doesn't help that the local government is short on funds and can't provide things like street cleaning as often as they might. What it boils down to, though, is not money but mentality. It's like being in the home of a really depressed person – when someone lacks motivation and has given up, the dishes in the kitchen tend to pile up. When a city is depressed, economically and otherwise, I guess everyone feels like it won't make any difference if they throw their empty Doritos bag on the ground. And even though it makes everything a little more depressing to look around and see trash everywhere you go, the idea of cleaning it up seems as overwhelming as a mountain of dishes with caked-on mac & cheese.

In short, I guess when people have pretty much given up (and not without reason) you get well acquainted with the design of Salem packs and Thunderbird bottles.

53 thoughts on “TRASHED”

  • People are just jerks. Even in neighborhoods where everyone owns the home they live in, you still see trash. Who the heck do people think is going to pick up after them? Their moms?

  • You definitely see more in some parts of the country than others. I'm lucky enough to live in Oregon which I guess is more "trash-conscious." When I've traveled to parts east I've noticed a lot more.

    I've spent some time in Spain and Portugal and while the streets are clean and you don't see garbage and litter, there is a lot more graffiti in the cities.

  • "I've spent some time in Spain and Portugal and while the streets are clean and you don't see garbage and litter"

    Wow — I spent some time in Madrid (and loved it) but what I remember most vividly is the amount of dog shit just about everywhere. And of course, the stench of baking dog shit. I'd take NYC over Madrid any day if it was merely a question of street cleanliness.

    That said, you'd think some genius from the Ferguson PD would have figured out a way to criminalize littering by now and further stick it to the poorest people in the community.

  • What you are seeing is that probably you get more concentration in the city—more pp = faster accumulation of crap—than you would see in the burbs or country, therefore you see it more. You would probably see faster accumulation near where people either congregate (obviously) or where people are walking.

    As few people walk in the burbs a) you won't see it as you whiz past, b) people may be more inclined to wait until they get home as they're not having to carry their rubbish.

    There's also certain types of food packaging that lends itself to just being dropped, ie Burger-Macs and similar. Is it the mentality around the food itself, the type of patron to those outlets or the conspicuousness of the brand that makes it stand out like the dog's balls? Not sure. What my annecdata has shown is that after a McDs opened there was far more rubbish dropped on the path I walked to the climbing gym, where before it was mostly chip bags and the occasional drink bottle, and some take-away food bags. In the suburbs where Starbucks tried to set up in Sydney, people complained about the increase in litter—though I would put that down to brand recognition over a generic coffee cup.

    As Ifv noted up thread, people are jerks. There's a region of Sydney where *after* moving in under the flight paths, the Retro-NIMBYs created such a stink about how this was hurting their health (read property values), that the NSW State Govt, at great expense, retrofitted these dickheads' homes with sound proofing. Property values in these suburbs are not cheap. Yet the amount of dog piles left all over the sidewalk was astounding, to the point it was far easier to walk in the street instead.

    Don't even get me started on smokers. Smokers pollute the air, thereby forcing their lifestyle choice upon everyone else, then just flick their butts everywhere.

  • Thanks for this, Ed. I live between two rapidly-merging cities and a common racist trope here is the trash left lying around–those "urban" (read: blah) people. I think you've hit the nail on the head with a couple of reasons, including infrequent trash pickups and people who are (with reason) so depressed and hopeless that they lack the motivation to clean up after themselves. Interesting to see that it happens in "rill Murkkkuh", too.

  • Francis Ford Copilopasta says:

    That said, you'd think some genius from the Ferguson PD would have figured out a way to criminalize littering by now and further stick it to the poorest people in the community.

    Dumbest comment of the day. Wetcasements wins the internet.

    People have given up under Obama and so they litter, is that the message here? Obama doesnt care about the litter problem?

  • When I go visit my in-laws in Appalachia I see lots of trash – it just seems to accumulate in people's yards. Plus the usual assortment of cars on blocks, old appliances and rusted out tractors that haven't moved in 10 years.

  • Red Ruffansore says:

    Yes, what ifv said. People are jerks,
    & the world is their ashtray. I don't
    look upon this as racism or classism,
    it's justified misanthropy.

  • Salem packs? 40s? Good to see Ed's classism and racism isn't limited to scowl-faced mulletheads.

    Could you elucidate? I'd have thought that would be the sort of rubbish you'd see in the economically depressed township he's living in.

  • People are jerks. In the cities they drop McDonald's wrappers and energy drink cans; out in the boonies they toss whole bags of trash and dead appliances into the woods to avoid paying even tiny tipping fees. You just notice people are jerks more easily in the city because the concentrated population means the garbage builds up faster. I worked for the National Park Service and did fieldwork in wilderness areas. It always astounded me that people would paddle their asses to some remote island in the Apostles or hike 4 or 5 miles at Buffalo National River, presumably in pursuit of the pristine wilderness, and then leave their trash in the bushes a few feet from their campsites. It's like they thought if they just tossed things far enough into the trees that they couldn't see it from their tents, they were fine.

    And Ed, if Peoria is so horrible, why do all roads in Illinois lead there? We just did the drive down I-39/I-55 from Wisconsin to Missouri and I swear for most of distance between Rockford and Springfield the signs for every exit indicate if you get off there, you're on your way to Peoria.

  • Ed,

    It is a function of walking. Suburbanites litter just as much, but it lands in the back seat of their cars.


    I live in a classy part of Appalachia, so the spare car in my yard still has its wheels! Anyone want a twenty year old Volvo?

  • It's worse in the South. Atlanta always seemed filthy regarding of income of an area. I spent time every evening cleaning junk from around my house, which was near a convenience store but on a quiet residential street.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    Litterbugs either can't see far into the future or don't care to look there. It's not too hard to visualize a future, after you've finished a can of soda, that involves walking past a fucking trash can.

  • I hate to say this as I'm sure there must be many nice Americans, but this is a fucking American problem.

    I live near a port in a country that is not the USA. Even though it is a port, it is a clean place. Not pristine, but clean.

    For many years the US Pacific Navy fleets used to pull in for R and R (that's navy talk for rest and rubbish).

    The difference between the state of the town the day before the fleet pulled in and the day after the fleet pulled in was astounding. Knee-deep in litter, immediately.

    Not only do Americans not give a shit about their own cities, they don't give a shit about anyone else's cities when they visit either.

    There was a documentary on this recently called Idiocracy.

  • Frank DiCuffleman, AKA DA says:

    I live in Manhattan, and attended the recent People's Climate March, and I was appalled at the mounds of trash they left behind afterwards, I guess expecting someone else besides them to clean it up.

    People truly are jerks, and too many of them think the world is their ashtray.

  • People dump stuff on our lawn here in suburban Upstate NY, all of the time.
    Usually it's a beer or soda can, or two. Occasionally paper and food wrappers.

    This spring, it looked like someone took a bag of garbage or two from work, and dumped it on our lawn.
    Coffee cups, donut wrappers, burger wrappers, pizza boxes, and paper – ALL OVER THE LAWN!

    I'm handicapped.
    I'm a non-violent person – but I wanted to kill someone: brutally.

    I had to go out with my walker, and pick all of the shit up.
    It took over an hour.
    Very, very painful.

    We live on a busy road.
    When I see older people, or women with kids, walking from the supermarket, I offer to give them a ride.
    I met a man in his early 80's, back around 5 years ago, and we became close friend – he's since moved down to NC, but we still talk on the phone.

    Guess how many people saw a handicapped heavy-set mid-50's bald man using a walker, picking up garbage, and offered to help?
    Not one!
    In an hour – NOT ONE!
    Easily, over a thousand cars passed by, and the only thing that happened, was some kids from the HS down the road made some comment driving by that I didn't hear.
    But I'm pretty sure they weren't offering to help.

    As the Depression and WW II era of people – who know from suffering, and how interdependent we all are – are rapidly passing away, they are being replaced by Boomers like me, and younger, even more un-empathetic generations – at least I give a flying-fuck about other people.

    I was a Customer Service and Sales Trainer in my corporate lives (I left many times when I got sick of the soulless corporate bullshit, to work as a bartender, bouncer, etc.), and back in the early 80's, I found a few young people like me, back then, who cared about other people.
    Less so, in the late 80's.
    I spent the 90's tending bar, acting and directing, and being an Adjunct Professor of Theatre.
    When I came back to manage a Training department in January of 2000, I found that it was hard to find any young people who cared about customers, and being empathetic.

    So, am I surprised at the garbage that you find in your little urban hell-hole, Ed?
    I'm just glad – and surprised – every day that I don't have to grab my walker, and pick-up the crap some asshole(s) decided to dump on our lawn.

    There's a reason I never wanted to have a gun.
    I'd be sitting all night, waiting to shoot some MFer who threw out a beer can.

    Good thing I'm non-violent, eh? ;-)

  • I live in the southern New England boondocks with a few hundred feet of road frontage. I've always despised litterbugs, but nowadays I almost feel sorry for them, since the litter I pick up here seems to be a side-effect of self-destruction. Cigarette butts, mini liquor bottles, junk food, fast food wrappers – basically everything that is going to put you on track for an early check-out with cancer-ridden diabetic alcoholism.

  • Never mind the trash, look around at the infrastructure — the crumbling buildings, the thrown-together strip malls, faux-front motels, rusting bridges, flimsy apartment complexes, rundown parks, etc. Then, think to yourself (or you can say it out loud). "At the height of our wealth and power as an empire, in the midst of all out "glory" — this is what we built." Archaeologists are going to have a field day with that.

  • We are now living in a "Rental" country.
    No one give a damn about a rental unit they are temporarily living in.
    It is not your, why would you care bout its long term viability as a habitable place?

    You don't own the the damn thing, you don't have any property rights.

    We are a renter majority country like Mexico. The 1% owns it all so trash it or let it fall into decay.

  • I lived in Brooklyn from '88 to '98 in a corner house one block from Prospect Park. Great neighbourhood, aside from the guy getting shot and killed in front of my house, and my car getting broken into 3 times. But then summer would come. On weekends, deposited on the sidewalk, or thin strip of grass that ran along the side of the house, besides the usual dogshit, there would routinely be used diapers, cases, yes cases, of empty beer cans, half eaten Chinese food containers, KFC bags, McDonalds bags. I know there were garbage cans in the park…..ONE EFFING BLOCK AWAY, which they probably walked past, not to mention garbage cans in the front of every house on the block.
    I've even seen people walk past a garbage can whilst dropping a wrapper on the street. It's maddening. I guess folks grow up, and have no good examples set for them.

  • I've lived in Chicago's neighborhoods for 30 years, mostly in rental units. I've noticed that the litter problem is not bad here. It's not perfect, but I rarely notice that it is piling up. Since I walk or taking public tran everywhere I would see it. In the Loop, the city cleans it up. but I don't think they do so in the neighborhoods. Two interstates (90 and 94) go through they area where I live and still no piles of paper. Occasionally, I pick up litter in the yard, but not very often. Granted, I live on the North/Northwest Side and can't speak to conditions on the South and West Sides in this great but segregated city. Also granted, I do not use a walker and thus do not have the level of concern that that would generate. Chicago is blown constant shit, some deserved; that i'd weigh in about the positive.

  • You are describing exactly what I witnessed first-hand in Greece. I wish everyone in the US who thinks austerity is some kind of fix could go to Greece for a week. Once you see what happens with the government stops providing services of any kind? You change your tune on austerity. The phenomenon that was sort of least intuitive is the one you're noticing. When things start to get shitty there's a multiplying factor. People say "Well, it's already dirty, what difference does my throwing this in the street make?" "Well, there's already graffiti here… I'll put some more here and it won't matter". "Someone is already parked illegally and they didn't get a ticket. I'll park in the middle of this intersection." Etc. It snowballs quickly. It reminded me of college and the "Well, we're already not getting our security deposit back, so let's trash this place" thing that would happen.

  • schmitt trigger says:

    I live in a small Texas town.
    A couple of years ago, the then mayor decided to pass an ordinance to eliminate plastic bags from grocery stores and the likes of Walmart.

    You cannot imagine the shitstorm that ensued! With arguments like he was infringing on our most basic freedoms! Significant resistance from the retailers, claiming that it would increase to joblesness, higher costs, and a retailers fleeing the community.

    Neverheless…The ordinance passed, and one could see a significant reduction in the amount of plastic bags on empty lots.

    But this being Texas, someone "found" a shady business deal that the mayor had done, made a big stink of it, with the local news channels spent all day reporting it.

    That mayor is now, an ex-mayor.
    And the plastic bags are back.

  • @Rick

    "It's worse in the South."

    Yes, please, spare yourself and stay away. Y'all wouldn't be happy here.



    P.S. – we would take Ed back if he could find him a full perfessership or whatever.

  • bjk Says:
    September 30th, 2014 at 6:47 am
    Malt liquor and menthol cigarettes are the equivalent of fried chicken and watermelon.

    Right, because a large % of black smokers happen to smoke menthols, it is racist to mention the existance of that litter.

    I think its perfectly reasonable to dislike Ed. But calling him a racist on the basis of the above post doesnt hold water. Poor neighborhoods like mine are often filled with litter, and 40 oz bottles and salem packs (which are a colorful green) stand out. If I commented that the Latin Kings keep spraypainting my door with gang signs, does that mean I am racist against Latinos? (or possibly the Roman Empire?)

    Basically what we have here is a post that says "Trash Sucks" and you respond with "Aha! More proof you are a jackass!" At that point, you might want to clean some of the hate off your lenses.

  • Wow — I spent some time in Madrid (and loved it) but what I remember most vividly is the amount of dog shit just about everywhere. And of course, the stench of baking dog shit. I'd take NYC over Madrid any day if it was merely a question of street cleanliness.

    NYC actually does have local ordinances requiring that people pick up after their dogs, which makes sense considering how many millions of people are crammed into so few square miles. I live in a county which is over 50% registered Republicans, and–surprise–there are no ordinances requiring that people pick up after their dogs. Because freedom is allowing your dog to do his business on someone else's property without being bothered to pick it up, I guess. The local pet stores sell doggy-do bags which one can put in a cute dog-themed dispenser and attach to the end of a dog leash, and I use plastic bags from the grocery store so I can double-bag and have a handle to clutch while I'm carrying the thing home to toss in the trash, but I see plenty of random dog shit in people's yards and on the sidewalks. A few weeks ago I was out there picking up after my dog, double-bagged it, and then used my hand sanitizer, then when I had my fanny pack re-packed and my dog and her shit in hand and we were all set to go, this woman comes out of her house to thank me for picking up after the dog.

  • Two weeks ago, someone in the vicinity helpfully deposited their old worn-out sofa and love-seat on the middle island of a residential street. Kicker is, if they had driven another 2 miles they would have arrived at a county dump that would have taken it for free.

    Our neighborhood is fairly rare for a southern city, a socio-economic melting pot. It is unfortunate, but there must be a correlation between poverty and litter, as evidenced by the plethora of McD refuse blowing down the street. You don't see a lot of wrappers from the artisanal bakery strewn about.

  • Up here in America's Hat litter just isn't a huge problem. Lots of propaganda aimed at kids making "litterbug" a bad word; municipal recycling initiatives making people think about their waste? Oh, and not as much systemic poverty (we have lots of the other kind, mind you, it just isn't impossible to get out of it and it is only somewhat racial.) Who knows, but our cities are clean and you'll often see somebody lean over to pick up trash if there is some and carry it to a garbage. And it wasn't even their garbage! I'm curious about why this is.

  • Well, it's not a trope. I actually see 40s and menthol packs. Every single day. Your experience and neighborhood may vary.

    I'm sorry I didn't make the trash more multi-ethnic and inclusive but it made more sense to stick with what I actually see. Don't worry though, the "white" parts of this city are just as disgusting.

  • @Modi Anass

    "No one give a damn about a rental unit they are temporarily living in."

    I fear you're right. I serve on a condo board of directors (never do this by the way).

    Generally speaking we have a more trouble with the units that are rented out than the ones that are owner occupied.

  • Oh, littering is a problem everywhere because, as everyone here has pointed out, people are jerks. Jerkdom does not discriminate based on wealth. But what I will always, ALWAYS wonder about is the gum on sidewalks. What the hell is that about? Do people just spit it out while walking along? Or does it fall out of their mouths while they are walking along? Surely those people have stepped in others' gum and it annoys them–what is the big deal with keeping the gum in your mouth until you reach a trashcan? At the very least, throw to the side where MAYBE people can avoid stepping in it. Bewildering.

    Graham, you must not have ever been to The Netherlands. People there are just as bad as, if not worse, than Americans when it comes to littering. Hell, those people throw whole bicycles into canals when they are finished with them and for just plain vandalism. To the point that cities with canals have to routinely dredge the canals for the bicycles.

    Also, never just assume that poo on the sidewalk was left by a dog. Could be human…

  • Empty beer cans on the road are ugly many say.
    But at night, reflecting bright. They safely guide the way

    courtesy of Mad Magazine 197?

  • I used to live in Amsterdam and was always amazed that the super-clean Dutch — and they really are — tolerated the constant dog poop landmines all over the sidewalks.

    Not like Munich where I also lived for a while. City Council decided people weren't going to be responsible about their dogs. With typical thoroughness, they passed an ordinance that required people to cart their dogs out of town for a walk. Proof of owning a vehicle was a condition of getting a dog licence. Dogs seen on city streets were impounded until some horrific fine was paid. But there was no more crap on the sidewalks.

    As for the larger point, I think Modi Anass and SeaTea have hit it: we're living in a rental society where the world is controlled by somebody else. And municipal governments cut trash pickup first which exacerbates the feeling that nobody's even trying.

  • When I was a kid in the 1950s it was worse…much worse. My town of 30,000 was a dump compared to now and the State parks were even worse.

    The powers that be are forced to keep the downtown area in decent shape because we like tourists to return. Of course there's nothing behind those cute storefronts.

  • @Mjr: I see your German rules/enforcement and raise you Singapore ;)

    But in general, life on a small crowded island nation sure as heck works far better than its neighbours and the countries it's supposed to be looking up to.

    So I dare you! I quadruple mother f-in dare you to spit your gum on to the side walk in Singapore! ;)

  • When I was in college and did part time work for the university on custodial staff. I had to find a way to pay for half of the college bill. Cleaning the bathrooms of dorms, I was shocked and dismayed to find out that some college level students of my generation totally don't know how to use a flush toilet. Seriously, they just didn't flush. It was a staggeringly common occurance.

  • I'm old enough to remember a campaign to stop littering that was national tv fare. Texas in the 80s came up with Dont Mess With Texas and had adds that featured bands singing "It's mighty reckless to mess to mess with Texas" . They had bumperstickers and were butch enough to actually appeal to the litter demographic. It worked . My yard in Ohio though gets energy drinks , food wrappers , and the traveling plastic bags.

  • Whilst not mentioned by Ed, the dog shit thing is really interesting. As a kid in the 1960's my favourite reading was MAD magazine. Headquartered on Madison Ave, Ny, the writers were obsessed with dog shit. They hated it and dreamt up unlikely and amusing contraptions that allowed people to deal with it.

    One of their methods was a plastic bag in which you picked up after your own dog. That is the method that is now law in my city and it works well. People walk their dogs with a little yellow plastic bag tied to the lead, and they place the filled bags in little receptacles placed on posts in parks for that purpose. Dog shit has pretty much disappeared from footpaths.

  • skwerlhugger says:

    Quixote, I can think of no experience in a total of maybe 4 years spent in Germany that even comes close to the story of no dogs outside in Munich, particularly since Germans do not consider cars to be an essential component of life, and in a city like Munich even less so. I also find German dog owners as self-righteous as American dog owners. So the story is very interesting to me. Can you give the approximate time frame of that episode, please?

    I don't find Germans particularly tidy, by the way, mostly it's just consumer and lifestyle differences. I've gone into a popular woodland park near where I stay and picked up bags full of trash after getting fed up with it. The trash cans along the paths are emptied regularly, but not necessarily used.

  • I think we're pretty good by global standards – take a trip through Peru or Malaysia and you'll see litter like you wouldn't believe – but we can always do better.

  • A friend I know who travels to Paris frequently says that in his observation, Parisians love their dogs but don't tend to pick up the poop. But he says this isn't a huge problem because Paris seems to have a more robust municipal service system and there are plenty of employees whose job it is to clean up dog shit and other street debris. This is anecdotal and I don't know what others have observed.

    But when he told me that, it made me recall an early "Mad Men" episode, like first or second season, when Don and Betty and the kids are picnicking by the side of the road, and as they finish, Don tosses his bottle into the river, and the family gets up and walks back to the car, leaving all their debris right there. And honestly, in my dim childish memories of the 50s and 60s, this is kind of what everybody did, because everybody assumed that someone else – a city or county worker, presumably – would handle it.

    In fact, it was Lady Bird Johnson who pushed the whole Keep America Beautiful campaign (and was viewed by some as finicky, prissy, and superficial for doing so), and that's what started anti-littering efforts and widespread installation of trash containers.

    In my area, dog poop is a problem, but it's been mitigated a lot by people's heightened awareness of their responsibility to pick it up. Most people routinely carry poop bags, there are dispensers containing poop bags, and if you walk away from your dog's poop, you are very likely to get reminded, either politely ("Oh, here, I have an extra poop bag!) or more caustically.

  • German rules, hah. Berlin has to be the dog poop capital of the world. You can really tell once spring arrives and the snow starts melting.

  • Magatha: In Paris, the dog (or human) poop problem was so serious that that when Jacques Chirac was mayor, he campaigned on and instituted a program to clean up the poop. The city bought these little rideable sidewalk cleaners to go along and suck up the poop and scour the sidewalks. Those little cleaners got to be known as "Chiracettes." But I gathered the French were so indifferent to their dogs pooping because they figured it was the government's job to keep the sidewalk clean, not theirs.

  • lige-

    True Peru story: visited a friend in Cajamarcas years ago. Our combi driver was lecturing our friend at how terrible Americans are to the environment while chomping on a sandwich and driving us up the mountain.

    He concluded his snack, mid-gringo-enviro-admonishment, and promptly heaved his wrapper and plate out of the combi window, and continued to lecture her on how filthy Americans are.

  • LanceThruster says:

    For a real good image of the incessant decay and apathy we face, take a look at how long it takes for any new patch of concrete to be littered with discarded chewing gum. Look at any sidewalk and see the speckled pattern of gum turned the color of black tar.

    Maybe Singapore's strict gum ordinances aren't so over the top after all.

  • skwerlhugger: the Munich ordinance was some time around 1977. At the time, Munich had very good public transportation, but cars were still more of a thing than they are now. I never quite understood how they justified the fairness issue of making it impossible for carless people to have dogs. Germans are usually quite big on fairness for other Germans.

    Singapore. Yes, indeed. Even Munich is not a patch on the draconian ordinances there. Although, I have to admit, every time I step in someone's gum I find myself muttering fascist Singapore-envy.

  • "The boiling summers, the arctic winters, the flatness, the omnipresence of ranch dressing and bland food"

    Hahahah. I live in Wisconsin and yes, ranch is indeed omnipresent. In every kitchen in a 100 mile radius, there are guaranteed to be no less than 7 half used bottles of ranch in every refrigerator. Not to mention, it is mandatory to include it on everything on any meal in any restaurant.

    But this has not always been the case. I am given to wonder at the origin of the Great Midwest Ranch Experiment. Anyway…

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