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A Message to Litterbugs

By Taiga Yoshida, age 17

Dear litterbugs,

Please, start throwing your trash away. I know what you want to say; that small right corner of the Skittles bag just “blew” out of your hand, or that the extra plastic straw you grabbed at Starbucks found its way out of your driver seat window “on it’s own” while you were driving. Still, for every little piece of trash you litter, it creates far bigger problems than you would assume. I believe that in the world, two types of communities exist: those that leave small bits and pieces of waste lying on the ground, and those who manage to keep that small piece of aluminum from flying away in the wind, the community that keeps the extra plastic straw for the next person to use. This is the difference between Santa Monica and Singapore, and I learned about this difference and the ripple effect of littering at my local skatepark, where I saw trash all over, gum turned black, and floor flooded with plastic, where no one looked twice at a litterbug. This skatepark made me assume that many people really don’t care about the environment, that littering wasn’t unethical, and that people were innately selfish. However, my entire perception on littering changed with my visit to another skatepark, geographically close, in similar situations, yet with one outstanding difference. It was full of people, yet no trash was seen anywhere around the skatepark; all trash neatly organized in bags and designated areas. From this I learned that litterbugs infect, causing those who wouldn’t care less about throwing away their trash to assume the mentality of the crowd. (info about microplastics and such) Because of this, I want to reach out to all of you litterbugs. I want to help you to understand what Leopold, a famous conservationist writer known as the father of wildlife ecology, tried to convey in his passage, “Thinking like a Mountain”, to look past your personal wants, and to realize the butterfly effect that is created from one small decision. Despite the lack of impact small bits of trash have on the environment, with more than 7 billion tons of plastic waste already created as determined by the United Nations Environment Programme, littering creates a butterfly effect polluting small communities to entire cities due to crowd mentality enabling others to do the same and reduces motivation to keep places clean once areas are filled with litter. 

First off, littering starts small. From your neighborhood or from the local skatepark, littering happens one place at a time. However, litterbugs like you infect. Just like at my local skatepark, one litterbug turns into another, until everyone stops caring and throwing away one’s trash seems foreign. Following the concepts of crowd mentality, people tend to follow other people’s actions, to fit in with the crowd. Therefore, to all of you litterbugs, I beg you to think past your own individual actions and consider the overall damage you are spreading. As stated in Aldo Leopold’s “Thinking like a Mountain”, I know littering seems like it doesn’t do anything on its own, just like killing one wolf doesn’t kill a mountain, which seems like an easy task that benefits the individual. However, its impact becomes far greater, when excessive killing of wolves results in “anaemic desuetude, and then to death” on the mountain, just like how excessive littering creates a dirty city given up on cleaning its pollution(Leopold 130). Once a place has litter, people are more likely to continue to litter. Just like when people realize that there are more deer with less wolves, litterbugs create this same concept, where with more trash, there is a smaller responsibility put on one individual. Surrounding litter deindividualizes each person’s impact, causing others to do the same, as it isn’t just “their fault” that trash and litter exists in a certain area. Through this continuous cycle formed, the World Bank estimates 60 percent of all water pollution to come directly from the source of littering. To all the litterbugs reading, I would like for you to realize the consequences you are creating by littering, not in just adding small bits and pieces of waste in the environment, but by also starting a negative trend for others to follow, eventually resulting in your city to look like Santa Monica, instead of Singapore. 

In addition to this, littering doesn’t just cause more litter, but it also reduces motivation in cleaning up the litter. As an example, think about a messy room. The messier a room gets, the harder the clean up is, and the less motivated people are to clean up their room. Physical pollution is the exact same. Psychologist Chambers in Yorkshire Post attempts to convey this concept by showing how as more and more litter is found in an area, people are less and less likely to pick it up and put it in a trash can, as “how much you believe an area is both scenic, and how much you care about the area, impact(s) how likely people are to litter”(Wilson 2). Because of this, litterbugs, I would like you to try out a little experiment. Next time you see a piece of trash in an area, just pick up one piece. In doing so, you may start to feel yourself wanting to grab more than one, but grabbing all that is present. If not, throw away that one piece and go on with your day. Once you start to hold responsibility, even in the slightest sense, a positive butterfly effect will take place, where an area will start its path in becoming cleaner. This difference between the two skateparks was the difference between clean and dirty. The difference between a tight knit community and one where every man’s for himself was created by the positivity and accountability sprouted from members who helped create a cleaner community. For instance, in my Environmental Literature course, I read Jon Krakauer’s novel Into the Wild, where he describes how people continue to “live within unhappy circumstances and yet won’t take take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism” which is exactly how I view those unwilling to change their habits of littering and contribute to the destruction of Earth (Krakauer 142). Littering doesn’t feel good, and

Krakauer tries to describe how without taking initiative, people are bound to continue to make the same decisions, even if these actions are self-destructing. I believe that with tighter communities come cleaner environments. So, to all litterbugs around, I would like you to be the spark in your community, to switch from deindividuation of people, to responsibility in every person, to clean up the mess you created, and to repay the debt you hold to Earth from the moment you were born. 

However, you might argue that a little piece of trash is not as impactful as damages caused by the mega corporations that create these plastics to begin with, or that we should be more concerned about the agricultural industry if we want to protect the environment. I would also agree with these claims, that there are bigger problems than littering and that littering doesn’t cause the biggest impact. However, I would like to focus on the impact which stopping littering could have on the world. Imagine a world where Downtown Los Angeles isn’t dirty, one where cars don’t have to worry about running over a glass bottle, a world where you wouldn’t have to constantly be looking down for gum or other litter. Preventing littering doesn’t change the “5,981 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents” as shown by a study on greenhouse gasses by the US Environmental Protection Agency, nor does it prevent toxic waste from leaking in our waters. However, a world without water bottles in national parks and bits and pieces of trash would definitely feel nicer. With a nicer world, I think that you, as the litterbugs, could be the spark to a butterfly effect of a green earth. 

In conclusion, we need to stop littering as a whole. To all the litterbugs, I know there are a lot more out there than you could possibly imagine, maybe everyone in the entire world at some point. Still, I think with one step at a time, by picking up one piece of trash, by holding on to that small corner of a candy bag, can we create a world without litter. Finally, I would like to emphasize the one crucial step to making this a reality. Stop being a litterbug, and influence others to do the same!

This submission was part of an open letter assignment at Huntington Beach High School. If you are interested in submitting a post to EarthPlex, visit our Submit a Post page.



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