Thursday, September 10, 2009


You already know that I get angry (very angry) when people toss cigarette butts out their car windows. And if you live in my neighborhood you've probably seen the girls and me out walking the streets with a trash bag in hand, picking up litter. If you've been around Brynn much, you might know that her favorite day of the year is Earth Day, although she doesn't know that it is (officially) only one day in April. Therefore, we can get her to pick up trash any time of year by telling her, "Hey, Brynn, it's Earth Day today. Let's go pick up garbage."

For litter detesters like us, living in a developing country is a bit of a challenge. In every developing country I've ever visited, trash is a problem. I cringe when I walk down our road, down our main street, and down the beach in our town and see litter lying everywhere. Literally, everywhere you look, it's possible to see litter in some form or another. And, unfortunately, the people who live here don't seem to care. And, really, I can't blame them for it. It's just not a priority.

The cleanest place I've ever been is Singapore. There's no litter anywhere, probably because if you litter you get caned. The second cleanest place I've ever been is Disneyland. Have you ever noticed that in Disneyland there are garbage cans within about ten feet of every square inch of the park? I love it. It's like...paradise.

The dirtiest place I've ever been is India, closely followed by Nepal. Whether or not any kind of trash removal system exists in those countries is a mystery to me. Mexico is much cleaner than India (and much less smelly), but when you come here from squeaky clean America, living in the muck takes some getting used to.

This weekend we had our first visitors. Scott's cousin Jeff and Jeff's wife, Cindy, were on vacation for a few days in Puerto Vallarta and, like the good sports that they are, they hopped on a local bus and came to see us. Before they arrived, I looked out my kitchen window with eyes anew, wondering if there was anything that needed to be tidied up before their arrival. And sure enough...there were empty plastic shopping bags, plastic soda bottles, candy wrappers, styrofoam trays, junk food bags, aluminum name it.

Armed with a plastic bag to cover her hand and another for holding the trash, Brynn headed out to pick up the litter. Within seconds, Callie was requesting bags of her own. And then their friend Cinthya and her little cousin, Alex, were here asking for bags so that they, too, could pick up litter. We were hoping that all of this litter-picking-up would make an impact on our little neighborhood, that maybe we would infect our neighbors with the same anti-litter bug that consumes us. I thought that maybe, just maybe, we were sharing our culture in a GOOD way, a way that doesn't involve obesity and cancer-causing junk food, expensive cars, or morally-questionable media. We were so encouraged that Scott even took photos. The neighbors looked at him (and the kids) like he had a screw loose.

The kids finished picking up the last of the litter, we dumped it all in our garbage can, and then I heard Callie scream, "DON'T LITTER!" And, sure enough, her friend Cinthya had just grabbed a packaged snack from her kitchen and tossed the wrapper on the ground.


Now, don't get me wrong here...I know that the way we handle waste in America is not perfect. Far from it, in fact. We clearly could use less packaging, more reusing, more recycling, and more public garbage cans (how frustrating is it to pick up your dog's doo doo in a bag and then have to carry it two miles before you get to a public garbage can?). But I think that we are, at least, on the right track. There is a public consciousness about litter. We know better than to litter. We prefer not to see garbage on the street and some of us (more every day, I think) pick up the trash that others leave behind, whether it's because they didn't care to throw it out or because their garbage can got knocked over in the night by a bear and trash blew halfway to Kansas.

As Americans, we know about the huge trash dump in the Pacific. We try to keep our land and our beaches clean so that we don't contribute to the problem. There seems to be no such awareness here in Mexico. I don't have a solution. Sometimes I think that there is no solution. Because, really, they just have bigger problems. There are gringos here who have started recycling programs. And we do have trash pickup three times per week. But the awareness is just not there.

We'll continue to do our part, to pick up what we can, to recycle what we can, and to share our efforts with the neighborhood kids. And we'll keep hoping that we can affect our neighborhood for good!


Fulton said...

littering drives me absolutely nuts. so nuts in fact that anytime i see a car on the road litter, i report them to the state so they can get caned by a letter:

i thought you'd be proud. when we come visit, we'll help pick up too.

lucythevaliant said...

That has to be so frustrating! Also, I did NOT know about the trash dump in the pacific, and am now horrified.

Hillary Dickman said...

Michael -- we'll be sure to plan a beach clean up day when you're here!

Lucy -- Sorry! I don't know how I knew about the big dump, but Oprah talked about it last spring for Earth Day, so after I saw that, I assumed everyone knew! It is horrifying, especially when you see it on video.