Dirty Thoughts

An Indian ragpicker searches for re-cyclWe’ve learned from experience, from having a surfeit of dirty thoughts. Voluntarily removing more than 3,000 pieces of litter from Hollywood’s Runyon Canyon (and the streets around it), has taught us several abiding lessons that the City of Los Angeles should consider in the ongoing battle against trash blight.
Not a sexy creature
+ Getting folks not to litter in the first place — and to pick up any litter they see — is a tough ask when our entire lifestyle is based on “acceptable” fouling of our environment. We accept poisoned water in exchange for newly fracked fuel sources. We accept polluted air (acknowledged by the WHO as a carcinogen) in exchange for the convenience of one-person commutes. We accept an entire economy based on consume-and-dispose. Accepting a litter-speckled “nature area” isn’t hard to do when many of us arrive at the park in an SUV stocked with bottled water from the South Pacific.
+ Who picks up litter? Genuinely extraordinary, highly exceptional people. Based on several social science projects we conducted, experiments that tested park-goers’ ability to see trash directly in their path, almost nobody — like, 1-out-of-1,000 — has the necessary eyesight, or knee flexibility, or hand-eye-coordination to pick up litter, even when they step on or over it. Those who do are special.
magic invisible bottle+ Who else picks up litter? Unexceptional, un-extraordinary Mexican and Central American immigrants, trying to eke out a living off the refuse of others. According to the law, they’re criminals when they fish recyclables out of residential blue bins. Now a couple of them are making forays into Runyon Canyon, since their more successful neighbors can be relied upon to fling their unwanted bottles and money they don’t need (5-cents per container) into the brush. Technically,enterprising citizen this is against the law, too. But we as a society have our law enforcement properly focused on the bottom feeders, not the litterers whose charitable donations allow less exalted non-English speakers to have a “job.”
+ Litter has a strange sort of gravitational pull; one piece of litter quickly becomes a small pile and then a heap. Rapid removal of the pioneer trash discourages the idea that “this is an appropriate place” to throw detritus. Call it the Broken Windows approach to sanitation. Not being part of the solution early in the process is, in effect, being part of the problem. If you don’t pick up a stray piece of litter, there’s a good chance that next time it will have morphed like a cancer cell into many pieces.
+ The most elegant solution to our littering problem is to “be the change you wish to see” and exercise a zero-tolerance policy toward litter: don’t do it — and when you see litter, don’t wait for someone else to do the right thing. Be a civic hero. Pick it up.
+ This just in! Picking up litter makes you sexier. Never did dirty thoughts make a heart so pure.

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