The results are in!
After nearly one week of highly un-scientific sampling, we’ve collected and analyzed the data. Literally.
During the test period, we visited Runyon Canyon, Hollywood’s celebrated nature area, and collected as much trash as we could carry – two handfuls and four pockets – between garbage cans. These receptacles are spaced about 200 meters apart (or less), conspicuously stationed beside the Canyon’s main hiking path, the paved one that climbs from the end of Sheryl Crow’s front gate on Vista Street to Mulholland Drive and the one-horse-three-car ranches in the Hollywood Hills. The garbage cans are green and have round bubble tops with swinging flaps; they look remarkably like garbage cans.
A surprising number of visitors to Runyon Canyon don’t seem able to locate them. Or maybe they just don’t like them, probably because they’re smelly.
So their trash ends up galmorously accessorizing nature’s plainness, adding texture and color to the browns and greens of living plants.
How much? After four circuits around the canyon over a four day period, we collected 235 pieces of litter. Because that’s all we could carry without doubling back for seconds.
The content ranged from organic materials – like dog poo and banana peels – to materials that are inorganic and impervious to bio-degradation. To qualify for pick up, objects had to be at least the size or mass of a pinky finger, with the exception of cigarette butts, which only had to be cigarette butts. The detritus included many of the usual suspects: plastic bags, candy (or “power bar”) wrappers, and pieces of shoes and shirts. But the grand champions of the litter sweepstakes suggest that the folks who visit (and litter in) Runyon Canyon aren’t the hippest of the hipsters. In fact, they’re consciousness level could be described as “unconscious.”
#1 (71 pieces collected): Plastic Caps for Plastic Water Bottles. Despite the surfeit of compelling (and alarming) information extant, if you’re still drinking bottled water, especially ones with removable plastic caps, you probably don’t care too much about the environment in the first place. So why should a nature area in your own neighborhood be any different from the world at large?
#2 (62 pieces collected): Labels and Wrappers from Plastic Water Bottles. See #1, above.
#3 (34 pieces collected): Cigarette Butts. Despite the surfeit of compelling (and alarming) information extant, if you’re still smoking cigarettes, you probably don’t care too much about yourself or your long-term prospects. So why should a public gathering place be any different than your polluted body? Even if smoking in a drought-dried canyon filled with chaparral is illegal and dangerous?
#4 (28 pieces collected): Plastic Water Bottles. See #1 and #2 above.
#5 (16 pieces collected): Plastic Bags Filled with Excrement. “Look, I put it in a bag, OK? I bent down. I scooped. I picked it up. So what if I flung my feces bomb beneath a bush that’s four-feet off the trail? At least I cleaned up after my dog!”
Our forensic analysis of Runyon Canyon litter has taught us that demography is an inexact and maddening science. For who would have imagined a sample population that voluntarily seeks out exercise in a semi-wild nature area, a population that overwhelmingly self-identifies as progressive, a population that takes yoga classes, would behave as though climate change and environmental decay is a big problem everywhere except Hollywood?
It’s not just the primary offenders, the litterers, who defile the park; it’s also those whose intense attention to their iPhone, or their ear buds, or their girlfriend complaining loudly about how, like, their other friend is, like, so not onboard with her new job – it’s the multitudes of us who don’t actively litter but can’t be shaken from our apathy (or self-regard) to make one of Los Angeles’s genuine treasures a little better place than how we found it.
On our garbage collecting hikes, we noticed (with some dismay) how few of our fellow hikers bothered to pick up trash that was almost directly in their path, even when someone else – us – was providing a useful visual example of how one picks up trash. But then we watched many, perhaps most, of the visitors to Runyon Canyon leave the park and get into a car, or something bigger than that resembling a tank with seating for seven (invariably occupied by one). These are folks who drive an automobile in order to exercise. And we realized that it would be unfair to ask people to care about litter when we accept and subtly encourage constant littering of our air and water.