Trash, By Any Other Name, is Still Despicable

It goes by many names in many places: in Spain, it is called basura; in Sweden it is known as papperskorgen; Italians refer to it as spazzatura; here in America it even has many monikers – trash, garbage, refuse, litter.

Keeping our parks clean is everybody's responsibility! © Can Stock Photo Inc. / kocakayaali

Though it may sound exotic in those other languages, litter, by any other name, is despicable and for parks and rec professionals it is probably public enemy number one.

To be honest, I have never understood the psyche of litter bugs.

I don’t understand how someone can blatantly throw their empty bags, wrappers, cups, Styrofoam, plastic, cans, cardboard and other items on the ground. Do they expect that someone else is obliged to pick it up? Are they angry at the world and do it out of spite? Are they totally oblivious to the fact that other people are impacted by their slovenly habits?

I remember one time I was inspecting one of our parks and I observed a young man, maybe 17 years old, toss a candy wrapper on the ground right in front of me. I politely asked him to pick it up and throw it in the trash can which was just ten feet away. I was shocked when he turned to me and said, “My dad pays taxes in this city to pay you people to pick it up.” I told him I’d like to discuss that with his dad and could he give me his phone number – or I could get it myself since the lad was on a golf cart with the registration number pasted on the side. He – wisely – picked up the wrapper and placed it in the can; but I had to wonder, did he learn this attitude at home? It makes me wonder just how people in general think about trash.

Summertime is serious trash time. So what do you do about litter and litterbugs? I’d like to hear from some of you on that subject – even if it’s just to vent, get it off your chest, say your piece – maybe what you have to say can help someone else; even if it’s just to know that misery loves company.

I believe that the majority of people are responsible enough to either throw litter and trash away; this is a case where a few bad apples spoil it for everyone else and expect those who are responsible enough to pick up after themselves to also pick up after them.

Possible Solutions

In my experience, there’s more than one way to approach the litter issue.

The placement and number of trash receptacles are key elements in keeping parks clean and sanitary. If I am accurate in my assumption that most people are responsible, then give them adequate numbers of well-placed, covered (so squirrels, raccoons and other animals don’t spread the litter) waste receptacles and they will use them.

However, the more receptacles there are, the more expense you have in labor, time and materials, to keep them emptied, which can be a limiting factor.

Mobilizing the Troops

I think the answer lies in mobilizing those who have a vested interest in a clean community: homeowners, businesses, civic groups, schools, churches, governments.

Bottom line is if you want a litter free community it’s going to be up to these people, who constitute that responsible majority, to pick up after the litter bugs, whoever they may be.

Allowing these considerate groups or individuals to be responsible for certain parks, roadways or areas – and recognizing their contributions with signage, news releases and other public praise – is probably the best way to economically contain litter.

In my experience, these “adopt a park/roadway/” programs are a good way to minimize your staff requirements and maximize the feet on the ground picking up trash and reporting problems like overflowing trash cans. One dedicated staff assistant can manage groups of volunteers, coordinate signage and report problems.

Constant recognition and encouragement goes a long way in keeping these important groups motivated to go out day after day, week after week and pick up after others. It also helps to promote the program.

We would recognize them at city council and recreation commission meetings and would send them annual letters of thanks signed by the mayor and council. This also helped them recruit people to their cause.

So let’s talk trash – got any anti-litter ideas that worked for you? Share them with us and maybe it will help somebody out there clean up their act.

Randy Gaddo , a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email