A few days ago, I was walking through Greek Row and spotted a squirrel with a piece of plastic wrapped around its neck. Luckily, the plastic did not seem to be a huge problem since the animal was still able to function. But I definitely felt as if someone had slapped me in the face, and I began to think about the issue of littering.
I sort of mentally slapped myself, too, as I became aware of my own complacency regarding it. I started to notice litter everywhere, and although litter seemed to be worse in and around Greek Row, I do not think that there is anything particularly special or wrong with the Greeks that makes them litter more. It is more reasonable to say that because Greek Row is the center of student shenanigans, it therefore suffers from some of the negative side effects of that, which obviously include littering. Getting worked up over where littering occurs is an easy way to lose the bigger focus.
The only thing that matters is the fact that littering happens in the first place. It says a lot about people. I interviewed a few students knowing full well that none of them would endorse littering. I do not see why anyone would. No matter what, it is clearly a crummy thing to do, yet people do it nevertheless.
Stefan Henick-Kling, a junior philosophy major, was thankfully perceptive enough to zero in on what I agree to be the core of the problem.
“It’s just irresponsible, it’s sloppy, it’s lazy. I’m not concerned with the Earth’s feelings. It’s just mean (to other people),"he said."Someone else is going to have to pick up your litter.”
Someone always picks up stray garbage lying about. If that were not the case, litter would build up, and we would be living in complete squalor like that of a third-world country. By refusing to deposit your garbage into any of the many refuse bins, which are all over the place, you have essentially chosen to have your work, your responsibility, taken care of and assumed by someone else. You are outsourcing the cost of your laziness and thus making other people’s lives a little harder. It is despicable.
I am not going to say I have not thrown things away without thinking. Like I said earlier, I am guilty of being complacent myself, but I can safely say that it has been a long time since I myself have done something that qualifies as littering. The closest I have come in a long time was years ago when I disposed of a banana peel, throwing it into forest behind my house where I know it will degrade and return to the environment. I have never dropped an empty cigarette pack, a beer can or anything else that others discard with little care.
Everyone knows in the abstract that leaving their garbage wherever they feel like is wrong, which is why no one will ever state in an interview a contrary position. Yet, in practice, sheer laziness wins the day, so a certain amount of hypocrisy is just below the surface. The next time you are thinking about littering, I think it is appropriate for you to feel nothing less than pure shame. What alternative is there to accepting the consequences of the actions by anyone’s standard you have complete control over? If you have friends who habitually leave their mess somewhere that is not the garbage can or their own personal space, you must urge them to change their ways.
Notice that I have not even mentioned that the law strictly forbids littering. The reason I did not is that choosing not to litter because of the potential formal repercussions to you is another way of missing the whole point that as a presumably moral or minimally decent person your intention should be to do your own duty out of respect for others, not to avoid harm. I cannot find a way to make the issue more complicated; it seems very straightforward to me.