Nation’s litter shows signs of the bad times
For the last 10 years, Stamford, Conn.-based Keep America Beautiful (KAB) has organized the three-month-long Great American Cleanup (GAC) to help communities clear litter and debris from America’s landscape. And, each year, the nation’s litter tells a story of the current events, says Gail Cunningham, KAB senior vice president and GAC managing director. This year, at least in one state, it appeared to be a story of recession and economic suffering.
In Georgia, volunteers in areas with large numbers of abandoned properties quickly filled dumpsters provided by local public works departments with record amounts of garbage, says Kim Portmess, Keep Georgia Beautiful’s program coordinator. “[The increase was] especially in the bulky items, like a lot of furniture that was just left out on sidewalks or improperly disposed of,” she says. “Also, the final results haven’t been completely compiled yet, but we have seen a rise in the amount of illegal dumps. There’s no proof that there’s a correlation, [but] in times of economic hardship, that does seem to go up.”
KAB is still tallying the results of this year’s event, which ended in May, and Cunningham cannot yet say if Georgia’s experience was echoed nationwide. However, she expects the total litter roundup will be close to last year’s total of more than 86 million pounds.
For Waveland, Miss., the GAC kickoff site this year, the event signaled the community’s renewal from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, which hit four years ago. The city supplied trash bags and gloves to about 1,300 volunteers from all across the nation who spent eight hours restoring a 40-acre park and picking up litter and debris from city streets. “We needed to get our infrastructure in place first, so this year’s GAC was a big, big year for us,” Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo says. “It was a mixed emotion kind of day, but a celebration of what we’ve been able to do.”
ONE MAN’S TRASH
Volunteers have recovered some unusual items during past Great American Cleanups, including:
- An accordion
- A lion-footed bath tub
- A 52’×26′ buoy
- A full-size organ
- A diaper stuffed with fruit
- An uncashed check for $5,000
- A message in a bottle
- A Mickey Mouse Christmas tree
- “No Dumping” signs
Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.