Part 1 of 3: Trash blight on the land, cities and nature
We pride ourselves as Americans that our country represents majestic mountains, pristine lakes and beautiful rivers. We celebrate our magnificence from “sea to shining sea.” We rejoice in “…oh beautiful for spacious skies and amber waves of grain.” In our advertisements to visit tourist destination spots in every state, we feature the very best of our landscape, flowers, birds and animals.
On my bicycle journey across America this summer at 12 miles per hour, I saw a different picture. Trash of every description, shape and kind litters all of America’s roadways. Cans, bottles and plastic containers dominate our highways and rest stops. Plastic bags of every size and color fly from posts, wire fences and trees. Filled trash bags dotted the highways I traveled across America.
Even in states like Oregon and Maine that maintain 5 cent deposit/return container laws, millions of containers lined the highways. Since I have pedaled eight times across America on different routes through all 50 states, I bear witness that a huge percentage of Americans don’t care what they toss out of their cars.
More sobering, not enough responsible Americans care enough to change our laws to make a difference. While I saw some folks out picking up trash on “Adopt a Highway” areas, it’s never enough because more people throw it than pick it up.
Old tractor, millions of cars and endless house trailer carcasses run along America’s roads like a parade of junk and eyesores. I witnessed places where the residents mowed around several rusting cars rather than remove them to the dump. How do they get away with such irresponsible and unsightly behavior? Answer: private property.
In the West, old mining companies have left unbelievable amounts of trash, junk and entire abandoned factories to rust and rot for eternity. While they devoured endless riches from the land, they left endless filth in their wake—without any consequences. My own State of Colorado represents a visual nightmare wherever miners tortured, burned and poisoned the earth where they dug. In Climax at the top of 11,318 foot Freemont Pass, miners ripped off an entire mountain and left it scared against the sky. In Leadville, Colorado, the whole town looks like a junk yard with rotting cars, trailers and junk littering the main street heading into town from the south. It’s pretty sickening. Amazingly, not enough citizens care enough to do anything.
In cities across the south, rusted cars from 50 years ago line the main street on the way into town. I asked one resident, “Why doesn’t somebody form a committee to get rid of all the junk lining the road coming into town?”
He answered, “Nobody cares.”
In places like West Virginia, which took me four days to cross, you can’t imagine the coal mines where they blow off the tops of mountains. Cars are driven over embankments and left in the woods to be grown over by vines and trees. I took pictures.
What sickened me most? Across America, somewhere in the vicinity of a half million abandoned house trailers dot the woods, stick up in our deserts like some kind of monument to “progress” and are left rotting in endless ravines. Additionally, millions upon millions of cars rust and rot in woods, in rivers, in lakes and just about anywhere some slob can discard one.
Only 150 years ago, we Americans took over a perfectly clean continent without a single piece of trash upon it, but today, we have littered it with trash for millions of miles. While we continue to rape the earth for metals, we leave millions of tons of metal lying all over the place.
While we dig for more resources, we toss most of our used resources into landfills at an astounding rate of speed. I am reading a book, Scarcity: Humanity’s Final Chapter by Chris Clugston. He addresses, “The realities, choices, and likely outcomes associated with ever-increasing nonrenewable natural resource scarcity.”
He said, “The natural resource utilization behavior that enables our current success—our industrialized way of life—is essential to perpetuating our success. It is simultaneously undermining our very existence. Neither our natural resource utilization behavior nor our industrial lifestyle paradigm is sustainable. This is our predicament.”
In his book, he addresses the fact that we are on the edge of depletion of over 40 of the minerals and metals that we need to continue this “American way of life.”
Yet, as I have written about before, we’re about to add 138 million more people to our country in 38 years. This planet cannot sustain such a horrific increase, but we stagger forward like a drunken sailor anyway. We continue a Faustian Bargain with an eventual Hobson’s Choice ending.
Why don’t enough people care enough to enact Michigan’s bottle, can and plastic container 10 cent deposit-return law? Why doesn’t every town and village enact local “personal responsibility” laws to clean up the abandoned trailers and cars? Why don’t major companies work toward total recycling laws of all materials?
I discovered in my third world bicycle travels all over the planet that “illiteracy” drives trash throwing and disregard for the land. Places like India, Haiti, Mexico and other third world countries cannot cope because the majority of their citizens suffer illiteracy.
Guess what? We’re not much different in America. How can we combat this phenomenon? We need financial incentive 10 or 25 cent deposit-return laws to get the land picked up and our rivers cleaned.
We need to cease giving plastic bags out at stores of all kinds. We need incentives for cotton bags to carry our goods out of all mercantile stores. We need a massive educational program for our inner, middle and outer cities. We need to break the cycle of poverty and move toward educated citizens who care and take action.
Can we do it? I am not optimistic there are enough who care and who will take action, so the trash problem across America will grow worse with an additional 138 million people by mid century.
Part 2: Laws cannot change human behavior, but they do ensure that containers get picked up.
Frosty Wooldridge has bicycled across six continents - from the Arctic to the South Pole - as well as eight times across the USA, coast to coast and border to border. In 2005, he bicycled from the Arctic Circle, Norway to Athens, Greece. In 2012, he bicycled coast to coast across America. His latest book is: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty Wooldridge, copies at 1 888 280 7715/ Motivational program: How to Live a Life of Adventure: The Art of Exploring the World by Frosty Wooldridge, click: