The One Piece of Trash Theory

12 Sep

Trash has a devasting effect on marine life and the environment. Photo Credit: Poolie

Trash has decimated marine life and the environment.

A Word About Trash


When I was living in Uruguay, South America a few years back, trash day for the average household in my town usually consisted of one plastic grocery bag full or so.  Re-use was big, recycling was small, and there was virtually little to no packaging of items in the stores, especially food items, so reducing was not a huge concern compared to America.  Of course they had butchers and bakeries that they visited separately from the grocery store.  Here in the United States, which is the king of trash in the world today, we now have 300 million people as the world population approaches 7 billion.  That is loads of people who throw away an immense amount of trash.  The United States alone throws away 195 million tons of trash per year, 4.5 pounds of trash per person per day.

The World of Trash


That being written a not so small amount ends up strewn around all over the place.  People toss it, trash trucks lose it, wind blows it and the wind transports it.  The town I lived in, in Uruguay, even though very little trash was generated compared to us, there was still trash all over in the streets, in the parks and in the waterways.  It was a major concern.

Here in the U. S. I notice quite a bit of trash just strolling through my own neighborhood, all types of trash, plastic bags here, plastic bottles there, pieces of paper, beer bottles, juice boxes and always cigarette butts.*  A not so insignificant amount is recyclable. From a distance the town may look pretty clean.  But trash abounds, and all waiting to be washed into the ocean ending up on the beaches and in birds’ and sea animals’ digestive tracts and in places like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is twice the size of Texas and as much as 6 feet deep in some locations.

The Theory for a Trash Free “Green” World

When I was traveling in South America, a friend from Australia used to pick up trash all the time – on the beach, in the forest, wherever we were, hiking swimming, etc.  She would always end up with a bag or two of trash to throw away after every outing.  What if everyone in the world did that, or what if everyone picked up just one piece of trash a day?  That would be pretty powerful, amazing in fact, but impossible more likely.  More significantly a lot of people are throwing trash around and not picking it up.  It really doesn’t take very many people multiplied by millions to disperse a lot of trash.  So it’s a colossal dream to think everyone in the world would pick up trash everyday.  Groups such as Keep America Beautiful (they are the people who had the Crying Indian Campaign in the seventies, which had an enormous impact on me as a kid) organize events to pick up trash on our beaches, in our forests, in our communities, but only a fraction of a fraction of the population comes out to help, even though they do collect tons of trash and have a great effect (not to mention they find some interesting items).  The most successful to date is probably Keep America Beautiful’s 2008 Great American Cleanup which had 3 million volunteers that picked up 86 thousand pounds of debris, including 189,000,000 PET (plastic) bottles for recycling that had been littered along highways, waterways and in parks throughout America.  Our highways in California have sponsors for sections to clean them and, of course, it has made a notable difference over the years, but there is still a lot of trash on the ground.  I thought about the 300 million people in the US and what would be realistic to make a difference?
Of course some of those people are incapacitated in some way, some are babies or small toddlers, and some just wouldn’t or couldn’t pick up a piece of trash for some reason or another, but what if 10% did (thirty million people)?  That’s 30 million pieces of trash per day.  What if each person only picked that piece of trash every other day?  That is 30 million people each picking up 182.5 pieces of trash per year, that’s almost 5.5 billion pieces of trash picked up.  That is pretty powerful, billions of pieces of trash less going into our waterways and oceans.

I think if just a handful of people joined this green movement in my neighborhood we would be trash free in no time.  Just think if all those people picked up one, two or three or more scraps while they were about.  It may become contagious once everyone saw their neighbors picking up trash on their walks.  Maybe it would deter the “tossers.”  Maybe not, but if nothing else this hypothesis shows what a difference one person can make when multiplied, which also applies to much more in life than picking up trash.

So next time you’re walking through your neighborhood, or on the beach or anywhere for that matter.  Pick up that piece of trash (little or big) you see near you and make a small difference that could have an immense impact.  It’s a simple concept, a simple step that is, but should not be, complicated, and will help make our home here on earth a better and healthier place.

*Cigarette butts are the most prolific and deadliest type of litter found in all places. Tossed out of car windows, from sidewalks, on beaches and on trails, cigarette butts cause millions of dollars in economic damages, not to mention loss of life, from fires every year.  Cigarette butts are tiny packets of toxins that, once littered, enter our aquatic ecosystems and wreak havoc on wildlife and water quality.  Also, as litter they cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year and your local governments are particularly hard hit by the expense of cleaning up cigarette buttes.”

7 Responses to “The One Piece of Trash Theory”

  1. Mike Bergelson July 21, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    A terrific post, Kevin. I’ve long thought that picking up one piece of trash a day could have a huge impact. Has anyone pushed this thinking a bit further? Are there any games or social media-driven services out there that try to get people to form this habit and reward the best “trash collectors”?

  2. Riqui Romero April 4, 2012 at 9:22 am #

    Hi!!! Great post!!! I wanted to say something about this matter and ended up reading your words. I’m from Argentina and can say that picking up trash now and then has had a great impact in my life. I don’t know about the impact on my town, city or neighbors I won’t talk for them. hehe.

    Hope to hear more people talking about this like you…


  3. John May 21, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    I’ve been distributing bumperstickers with the saying “Pick Up One Piece Of Litter A Day” since 1990, based from Long Island NY. Six thousand were given out.

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