One of the best ways to prevent litter is to reduce consumption, says a local environmental leader.
Sarah Heyer, executive director of Keep Carbondale Beautiful, headed a group of 150 volunteers Saturday, starting in Turley Park, in an effort to clean up Carbondale’s streets and public spaces in commemoration of Earth Day, which was first celebrated April 22, 1970.
Similar efforts were undertaken at the same time by MJ Smerken and a group of volunteers at Longfellow Park in Murphysboro.
Volunteers were at both locations and wore heavy gloves while they filled black bags with litter and clear bags with recyclables.
Heyer said because Americans consume too many products and prefer to buy new rather than used, they create a demand that encourages waste.
“As a conservationist, I think we waste so much of what is produced,” Heyer said.
And some of that waste turns into litter, she said.
Heyer said there needs to be a “carrot and stick” approach to solving the litter problem in America.
There should be more grassroots efforts to educate citizens, particularly children, about the harmful effects of litter, she said, and more incentives should be offered for recycling.
At the same time, there should be better enforcement of existing laws against littering, Heyer said.
She said her organization, which educates the public about litter and recycling, is considering a litter cost study.
Heyer said the study would analyze the amount of time and money taxpayers spend annually to foot the cost of picking up litter in Carbondale.
She said according to records she found, the first Carbondale cleanup day was organized in 1987 by an organization called Carbondale Clean and Green, which later changed its name to Keep Carbondale Beautiful.
She said in an email that she found in 1989, 500 volunteers collected approximately 14,000 pounds of litter as well as 2,685 pounds of recyclables.
Heyer said 1993 was a peak year for trash — 527 volunteers hauled in 21,699 pounds of trash, but no separate amount was listed for recyclables.
She said since the mid-1990s, the number of pounds collected during the annual cleanup day has been in the thousands, not tens of thousands, but the number of volunteers has been lower, which affects the amount of litter collected.
Jessica Bradshaw, who volunteered at Turley Park, said she doesn’t know why people litter or don’t discard waste in recycling containers.
“I’m always shocked when people don’t do the basic things like recycle,” she said.
Bradshaw, an office manager of Student Support Services and Upward Bound, said she thinks the recycling programs at the university would appeal to people if they were more convenient.
“Where I work, there are way more trash cans than recycling bins, and a lot of the bins say ‘paper only,’” she said.
Bradshaw said she thought there should be more mixed-use receptacles, in which all sorts of recyclables could be thrown, on campus.
Jill Berube, a Carbondale volunteer, said she thinks the attitudes people develop about littering and recycling start at home and that parents need to set examples for their children.
“I am appalled when I see people throw something on the ground when there is a trash can 20 feet away,” she said.
Berube said she thinks people litter when they’re driving because they don’t want to mess up their cars and would rather throw trash out the window than dispose of it at home.
Volunteers also gathered at Longfellow Park in Murphysboro to pick up debris and recyclables.
Smerken said she volunteered last year and was selected to head this year’s efforts.
She researched about litter, she said, and found that the cost of cleaning up litter in the United States each year exceeds $11.5 billion.
“Most litter is smaller than four inches square,” Smerken said. “And most of it is cigarette butts and fast food containers.”
She said most littering is done on roads, but litter also accumulates at transition points such as entrances to movie theaters and retail stores.
She said litter affects everyone in a community because the presence of litter reduces property values and attracts additional litter.
“When people see an area that’s got a lot of litter, they’re more likely to litter,” she said.
Bob Tyson, of Murphysboro, was a volunteer at Longfellow Park.
He said he was there because he thought everyone should contribute in some manner to the welfare of his or her community.
“Keeping Murphysboro clean will help attract new residents to the area, too,” he said.