Green Tip #23: Leave It Better

I was walking home today and there was an abandoned towel on the road. I walked past it, thinking that I should pick it up but worrying about what people would think. Then a car pulled away and the street cleared, so I walked back and picked up the towel. I’m going to wash it and use it as a rag. I think someone dropped it this morning, so it wasn’t too dirty or germified.

Something happened to me when I was in high school. I was walking into school and fell in step with the vice principal. We were having a great conversation, and all the sudden Mr. Dahm stopped, picked up a piece of trash, and threw it in the nearby garbage can. Until that moment, I had never considered that it could be my job to pick up litter.

When I was a Girl Scout, who always wanted to be a Boy Scout because their camp was cooler, the troop leader always said to leave somewhere better than how you found it. It’s a simple gesture with a powerful impact. Mr.Dahm got rid of a McDonald’s cup from our school parking lot, but his action made an impression on me that ripples through my life today.

If I see a bottle, can, or piece of trash on the ground, I pick it up and put it in the nearest receptacle. Periodically I walk around the empty lot in my neighborhood and clean up all the litter thrown away. It’s my neighborhood, and I like it to be clean, so why not?

If there are kids around and you see something unsafe, why not point it out? If there is a piece of trash around or a plastic bag flying through the air, why not snag it and dispose of it safely? We’ve all seen photos of the sea creatures with 6-pack plastic rings wrapped around their necks. Trash is harmful and unsightly.

I used to think that if I didn’t go out and pick up all the trash in my neighborhood all at once, then it wasn’t worth doing. Man was I dumb. It is easy, enjoyable, and perfectly ok to pick up one piece of trash daily. In fact I probably pick up more trash this way then my bi-annual big cleanups.

So wherever you are, leave it just a tiny bit better. It doesn’t have to be trash cleanup, but that is a good place to start. Sometimes I wash any remaining dishes in the work sink while I’m doing mine, or close a door or window for someone when it is raining. If I’m brave, I pick up an earthworm after it rains and move it to the side of the road with dirt (but I really get grossed out by earthworms). Last week as I was leaving the gym, I almost stepped on a furry caterpillar. I let it crawl onto my hat and put it on a bush. A man was walking in the opposite direction, and he gave me the strangest look – then broke into a big smile once he figured out what I was doing. Sometimes people honk their horns or thank me outright when they see me picking up trash. Many times I’m afraid of looking like a weirdo, but I do it anyway and hope that someone sees me set a fantastic example like Mr. Dahm did for me. I’m always glad that I did.

Shared at Eco-Kids Tuesdays