Pick up the trash!

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West Virginia spends more than $1 million annually to remove litter from state highways.” -West Virginia Department of Transportation annual report


So another Earth Day has come and gone, with lots of opinion pieces in newspapers about the threat of Global Warming, increasing vehicle fuel economy standards, and the inevitable plethora of rock and roll concerts designed to “raise the consciousness” about the many environmental issues facing our little planet.


Pardon me if I sound so very cynical about all this. We go on, and on, AND ON about how to solve any number of issues - reducing energy consumption, decreasing pollution, etc. - that usually involve billions of dollars and decades to realize. But here‘s a simple one we can do right now -- in fact, this instant:


PICK UP THE $#&*! TRASH THAT‘S ALL OVER THE PLACE!


I mean, come on people! We spend about $115 million a YEAR in this country just picking up all the litter dumped on the side of our highways! According to the good folks at the West Virginia Department of Transportation, an average two-mile stretch of highway contains 32,000 pieces of trash! And all this stuff ends of choking creeks, streams and rivers, plus killing all sorts of wildlife, from fish to birds.


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(Courtesy of the Sierra Club)


Here‘s another factoid: During a one-time sweep of Interstate 35W in Minneapolis, Adopt-a-Highway volunteers picked up 192 tons of trash in one day. The quantity filled 16 Minnesota Department of Transportation tandem trucks, representing approximately 6,000 filled trash bags.


I mean, you‘d think that all those “green-niks” in Hollywood could get off their high horse about buying “carbon offsets” and actually DO something PRODUCTIVE, like maybe pick up and recycle the trash from all the swag they get at award shows every year.


Look, municipalities in the U.S. generate some 251 million tons of trash (before recycling) per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or about 4.6 pounds per person per day. Compare that to the 88.1 million ton generated in the U.S. back in 1960 - roughly 2.7 pounds per person per day - and you can quickly see why trash is a big issue.


(I am also still waiting for a legislature or governor somewhere to step up and claim the cigarette butt as its state flower. There‘s just so many of the freaking things all over the place - and here I thought smoking was on the way out!)


One reason we still have so much trash around is that we aren‘t recycling a whole lot of it. In 2006, the recycling rate was 32.5%, with 81.8 million tons of materials recycled, according to the EPA‘s numbers. That‘s better than the 6.4% rate back in 1960, but still not great. Chief among materials recycled today are automotive batteries (99%), steel cans (62.9%), yard trimmings (62%) paper and paperboard (51.6%), plus aluminum beer and aoft drink cans (45.1%). At the bottom are tires (34.9%), plastic soft drink bottles (30.9%), HDPE milk and water bottles (31%), and glass containers (25.3%).


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(Local volunteers conducting highway clean up in Missouri.)


Reducing trash production is also not only an easy thing to do - requiring very little beaurecratic mumbo jumbo (one hopes and prays) - it also generates an immediate environmental return. For example, each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, three cubic yards of landfill space and 4,000 kilowatts of energy.


(By the way, more on how trucking companies are reducing their use of paper in all sorts of creative ways - saving big bucks while being green - in a future blog post.)


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(Where the trash SHOULD go. Kudos to companies like American Waste for the job they do every day.)


So how about we put the carbon offset boondoggle, free rock concerts, and op-eds on the shelf for a while and get down to just cleaning up our neck of the woods in the good old U.S.A. Just cleaning up the trash would really improve the environment quickly without all that much effort on our part.

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