Jim Buchanan

Jim Buchanan

I’ve spent most of the last week thinking trashy thoughts.

With all the litter cleanups around here – desperately needed and most welcome – it’s been hard not to.

I hear a lot of talk about how some people need to change their habits, quit littering, etc. That’s true.

But is it doable? People get stuck in their ways, whether those ways are admirable or not.

I say we attack the problem from other angles.

Anyone who grew up back in the latter half of the last century probably remembers bottle deposits. Back before plastic overran the globe, drinks came in glass bottles. You could turn those bottles in for a couple of cents or a nickel each.

On a given Saturday kids, and some adults, would fan out and flat clean the ditches along area roads. There were times it was actually difficult to find trash.

You wouldn’t get much money, but it would be enough for a candy bar and a soda, and that would be enough incentive.

Apparently we need some kind of incentive once again, because the amount of trash out there is incomprehensible.

It’s obvious 90 percent of the stuff is tossed from vehicles or blown from the beds of trucks. Why this is, again I don’t know. We all gas up – just toss your trash in the garbage can at the gas station. Or the garbage can at the grocery store. Or the garbage can on Main Street.

Really, they’re everywhere. I’ve seen pictures.

But apparently garbage cans are invisible to a subset of humanity. The military spends billions of dollars a year on research to make planes and tanks and troops invisible to the enemy. Maybe they should just dress a military unit or two in garbage cans, ’cause there are evidently a lot of people out there they could then sneak up on.

Anyway, I think we ought to abolish plastic bottles, and probably plastic shopping bags, which my friend Dave Russell refers to as “urban tumbleweeds.” We got along without them for thousands of years. We’ll adjust.

Plastic bottles, in my view, are one of the biggest scams ever perpetuated on humanity. This goes back to the days when every community had a good, easily accessible, public water system. You drank that water from a glass, or a hose, or from the pump you cranked to draw it from the ground.

Then the plastic bottle came along, and suddenly that water cost as much as a soda once did. It’s just water. Coincidentally, there seemed just as suddenly to be a shortage of drinking fountains.

I think if you went back in time 70 years and told an old-timer you were paying for water – and radio, and television, and a small fortune for your phone – they probably would have put you down on the spot. Out of pity, mind you, as someone who would pay for what should be free is surely the kind of simpleton who would be falling down an open manhole cover soon enough, so why put first responders through all the bother of recovering the body?

Some years back I read an entertaining blog post from a fellow who drank his morning coffee in Styrofoam cups. He got to thinking about how those cups never break down, and how they’d still be around in landfills many years from now, waiting for alien archaeologists to unearth.

So he started writing his name on the cups, thinking they’d find so many that they would think he – let’s call him Kevin for the purposes of this story – must have been some kind of king or demigod. Kevin could be found everywhere, his name left in permanence for future scientists to ponder his awesomeness.

Then he got to thinking about it some more and it occurred to him those alien scientists would eventually figure out that all of Kevin’s trash had helped wreck the planet and led to the extinction of Kevin’s species.

They would think Kevin was a monster. A selfish monster, one who had thoughtlessly wrecked his own civilization.

So, he started writing his ex-wife’s name instead.

Oh well.

It’s heartening to see the kind of cleanup effort we’ve had in recent weeks.

I just wish it wasn’t so much work staying ahead of the Kevins of the world.

Taking that coffee cup away from him in the first place might be a start.

Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.