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Spring a good time to take out the trash

April 11, 2005|by BILL KOHLER

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

- Margaret Mead




It's on the streets of Hagerstown, in its parking lots and strewn across its yards.

It's commonplace at the Martinsburg, W.Va., and Charles Town, W.Va., Wal-Mart parking lots and you're sure to find it outside the Lowe's in Chambersburg, Pa.

It's also quite common on the main streets of small towns like Waynesboro, Greencastle, Boonsboro, Harpers Ferry and even among the ghosts of Sharpsburg at Antietam National Battlefield.

It's not tourists and it's not money that you can find at all these places; it's dirty old trash.

If smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body, then littering is one of the worst things you can do to your neighborhood or your city.

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Living on the main street in my town, I get a firsthand look at how trashy we've become.

It really surprises and saddens me how lazy, irresponsible and sloppy many of us have become. My yard and those of my neighbors occasionally serve as trash collectors from the wind blowing trash from the small strip mall across the street and from the stuff that is thrown out of car windows.

A recent trip to The Home Depot at the Centre at Hagerstown was a real eye-opener. I counted five plastic quarts of oil in between parked cars - flattened and emptied. How much trouble would it have been to carry that quart up to the front of the store and throw it in the trash can out front? What about throwing it in the back of the old pickup or in the trunk? What in the name of Mother Earth is wrong with you?

A walk through most downtowns in the Tri-State also paints a trashy picture. Soda bottles, cigarette packs and butts, fast-food bags, newspapers and the like are blowing around on windy days like tumbleweeds across the Ponderosa.

On Easter Sunday, my young daughter and I picked up a cardboard box that someone dumped in the parking lot across from my church. As we headed back to the car, she said, "Look, Daddy, more trash."

We proceeded to pick up a half-dozen bottles, a couple of cans, some cups, straws, paper and a couple of 9-volt batteries someone discarded in the grass.

But hey, all is not lost. Like Margaret Mead wrote, a small group of people can change the world and make a difference. We can start to show some respect for our communities and our future generations by taking a few baby steps in the right direction. Walk with me, won't you?

1. Stop throwing stuff out of car windows, from butts to bottles to bags of fast food. It's a bad habit and it's illegal, too. Littering can get you fined and I'd like to see our police agencies start enforcing it more.

2. Teach the children well. Show kids it's not cool to litter and then practice what you preach. If you see a teen or adult doing it, stand up and say something to them or write their plate numbers down.

Groups in the Eastern Panhandle - Berkeley Community Pride and Keep Jefferson Beautiful Inc. - are active in their respective communities and would be happy to get more people involved. The Berkeley County group wants to bring the antilittering message to schools, which is a great idea.

3. Go to the dump. Most communities have dumps that will accept your trash no matter where you live and it's not all that expensive. They're listed in the phone book, so quit throwing it along the highways in Jefferson and Berkeley counties at night.

4. Organize a cleanup. My wife and I organized a cleanup in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Waynesboro that was rained out last weekend and held Saturday. It really didn't take a lot of effort. It all starts with an idea, the commitment and the time to drop off fliers to neighbors. The Waynesboro Kmart was kind enough to donate trash bags and all of us pitched in with breakfast goodies. The cleanup also set a good example of volunteerism for our kids and was a great chance to meet and catch up with neighbors.

I'd like to see a boroughwide cleanup in 2005 in Waynesboro. A cleanup really can make a difference. A community where we lived in Wisconsin had a cleanup every spring and it really helped the city shine. We not only picked up trash, but we planted flowers and trees, painted over graffiti and cleaned up riverbeds. It really fostered a sense of pride in how the community looked and how we cared for it.

Plenty of help in this area is available on the Web. Check out the Keep America Beautiful Web site at www.kab.org.

5. Businesses and mall owners need to make sure trash cans are plentiful and emptied often. I know people are going to occasionally dump their trash in there, but isn't it better to have it in there than on the battlefield at Antietam? Or in the stream at Renfrew? Or the front steps of Corpus Christi Church?

6. "Pride (In the name of Love)." That's what this really all boils down to, you know.

People young and old need to start taking better care of their communities. We all want to be proud of where we live and a clean community is an integral start toward a better community. We all can do our part and the time to start is right now.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State Editor of The Morning Herald. Reach him at 1-800-626-6397, ext. 2023, or by e-mail at billk@herald-mail.com .

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