Luskin: Green Up Day

May 1, 2017

I used to like Green-Up Day, when I gladly pitched in to pick up roadside trash in my neighborhood. It was like a community game of I Spy, scouring the leaf litter for brown bottles, the glint of an aluminum can, or hitting a jackpot of a six-pack jettisoned at chugged intervals. In the early years, we’d find parts of cars that looked as if they’d been assembled by Henry Ford himself.

But this year I’m feeling conflicted about this civic duty. I’m tired of picking up the same beverage containers, fast food wrappers and cigarette butts year after year. But if I don’t, I’m afraid the roadsides will become clogged with trash, especially now that our solid waste management district is discontinuing its recycling program, leaving us without a convenient location in Newfane to bring our recyclables. And roadside trash isn’t just a local problem.

Signs along Vermont’s interstates last week announced that the Agency of Transportation has spent five hundred and sixty four thousand dollars collecting over one hundred and thirty tons of trash. That’s in addition to all the bright green bags filled by Green Up volunteers. If people have no trouble throwing what amounts to nickels out the car window, maybe it’s time to increase the deposit on beverage containers to twenty-five cents.

But at UVM, banning water bottles backfired, when, instead of drinking bottled water, students turned to other beverages packaged in returnable plastic bottles and aluminum cans. So I think we need a combined approach that retrofits water fountains into bottle filling stations and tacks a bottle deposit on all beverage containers. Convenience stores might even see increased foot traffic, as customers walk in to refill their water bottles and maybe buy something a little extra, the way we used to when we purchased newspapers at the general store… when news was printed… when we had general stores.

While we’re at it, we could make all fast food packaging biodegradable, so it returns to the earth after it’s been thrown on the ground.

Protecting the natural beauty along our highways isn’t a new idea. Congress passed The Beautification Act in 1965 with this in mind, featuring a public service campaign with Lady Bird Johnson as its ambassador. She advocated against littering and for planting flowers – just the kind of initiative we could use today to Make America Beautiful again.