Those of a certain age might remember a public service announcement from 1971. The Clio Awards-winning spot was named one of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the 20th century. This unforgettable spot, most commonly referred to as the “Crying Indian” spot, featured a Native American actor, Chief Iron Eyes Cody, paddling a canoe on tranquil waters. Then floating trash appeared. When he pulled the canoe up to a beach, it too was littered. Eventually, as he stood looking over the cars zooming by, a bag of trash was thrown out a passenger window, bursting open at Chief Cody’s feet. A tear fell down his cheek as a voiceover stated, “People started pollution. People can stop it.”
During the height of that campaign, Keep America Beautiful reported receiving more than 2,000 letters a month from people wanting to join their local team, and by the end of that ad campaign, litter had been reduced by as much as 88% in 300 communities.
Unfortunately, littering continues to be an ongoing problem. The average U.S. resident produces about 4.5 pounds of garbage a day — the global average is 1.6 pounds a day. Apart from the obvious ugliness, there are other issues: Littering can encourage the spread of pests and diseases, attract wildlife and, if the trash collects water, it may also harbor mosquitoes. So what is the solution and how is it implemented? A lot of cities are trying different methods to combat this health hazard.
Colorado Springs, Colo., has been under the leadership of a passionately involved mayor since 2015. Jacob Anderson, community engagement specialist for the city of Colorado Springs Office of Communication, couldn’t say enough about Mayor John Suthers.
“His passion since beginning his first term — he’s in the final year of his second term — has been to make a city that matches the scenery. That was part of his inaugural speech. It’s an incredibly beautiful city,” said Anderson. And he walks his talk. “If you’re walking into some building, thinking about what you have to do, where you have to be and all that, and he’s approaching at the same time. He’s likely to fall behind you, because he’ll be picking up a piece of trash on the sidewalk or street. He wants to leave this as his legacy. And he took it on himself to motivate the community, take ownership. We have an app we use — and social media is our friend and asset — and I’m empowered to be the manager of that app; you use a tech-enabled process to report vandalism or damage so the issue can be taken care of as quickly as possible. And when you’ve done that, it feels like, ‘Hey, that’s my stop sign, my streetlight.’ That’s what it takes to have community involvement.”
So with all this in mind, Colorado Springs started a program called #KeepItCleanCOS. Its page shows all the ways community members can be involved, including one called the Immaculate Eight, “which was suggesting names for the four new street sweeper trucks purchased for street cleaning. We had about 250 submissions, and the community did bracket voting, narrowing down to the final eight: Dirt Reynolds; Obi-Wan Cleanobi; Bruce Springsclean; Sweep Caroline; Sir Sweep-A-Lot; Sweepy McSweepface; The Grim Sweeper; and Kevin,” Anderson said.
A June 8 Fox 21 News article revealed the winners as Dirt Reynolds, Bruce Springsclean, Sweepy McSweepFace and Kevin.
There is also a new vacuum truck meant to suck up trash. This was a $2.7 million endeavor, and the funds came from the city’s reserve savings account. Human resources will cost $800,000 annually. The Colorado Department of Transportation is partnering with this program; it will clean up state-maintained roads locally.
There’s also a toolkit on that webpage, because in order to encourage more community involvement, the city will provide trash bags and gloves. And when residents have filled those bags, they’ll be picked up and hauled away. Another incentive is the nomination of businesses and organizations, as well as individual people, in August, for those who go that extra mile along the roads and clean things up. An award will be given every September. Anderson said another helpful thing is to have locking trash cans and dumpsters, especially in family housing developments.
“We get some pretty high, sweeping winds here, and if those trash containers blow open, you might just as well have dumped all your trash directly on the ground.”
It’s all a part of what Mayor Suthers has said all the way through, “If each and every one of us focused on becoming a good ancestor, the world would be a better place.” He’s written a book called exactly that: “Becoming a Good Ancestor.”
On the other side of the country, Melbourne, Fla., has a Trash Bash every year. Part of the Great American Cleanup and sponsored nationally by Keep America Beautiful, Trash Bash has been happening in many places for more than 50 years. This most recent one meant that 185 volunteers bagged 157 bags, equaling 7,900 pounds of trash.
Megan Selva, the environmental programs’ coordinator in Melbourne, said, “That’s not as much as we’ve gathered in previous years. Not because there’s less trash, but because COVID has cut down on the number of volunteers.”
Selva just finished leading two workshops for the “Don’t Waste It!” program. The workshops are offered for educators of students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, and there are multiple lessons and activities both for groups and individuals. There is also the opportunity to tour the new Keep Brevard Beautiful Organics Composting Facility or the Waste Management Materials Recovery Facility.
But Selva is busy with a lot of other projects and responsibilities as well. “We have a program called Curb Contamination. Wednesday is recycling day, so I go all around and open bins everywhere, checking to see if there are any contaminations, and if there are, I have a door hanger to be left behind.”
Contaminations, Selva explained, are “things like styrofoam, plastic bags, clothes hangers — or tangling things like hoses and cords and strings of Christmas lights! I let the residents know which items are contaminated because they might not know. And there’s a term we use called ‘wishcycling,’ which means things people think should be recyclable and hope they are, so they put them in. But if they’re not, and they’re in there, it’s all going to go to the landfill, which is not what we want. This helps control the contamination rate — ours is about 30%, which is pretty high, and we’re always trying to get that down. The main thing residents need to focus on is getting back to the basics of recycling: aluminum and steel cans; plastic bottles and jugs; and cardboard and paper. Plastic bags are the worst, because they get tangled up in the machinery. If there aren’t any contaminants, I leave a sticker that says ‘Great Job!’”
Selva added, “On Earth Day, we planted over 100 plants and trees at our local golf course. This beautifies, of course, and helps the wildlife, but it also mitigates runoff, and that’s crucial, too.”
Runoff can pick up and deposit harmful pollutants: dirt, sediment and especially phosphorus and nitrogen, which, Selva explained, creates a thick sludge and damages seagrass.
“Our stormwater management solution — the use of baffle boxes — has prevented 200 tons of trash, 7,800 pounds of nitrogen and 1,550 pounds of phosphorus from entering the Indian River Lagoon. We have the annual International Coastal Cleanup all along the lagoon, where it’s most vulnerable to trash and all the other things that harm it.”
Selva said anyone in any town can coordinate something like the Adopt-a-Road program. “Twenty groups here have adopted and maintained city roads. They go out at least four times a year because of the changing weather with each season, and many times more than those four are needed.”
The city of Fort Worth, Texas, is developing its first environmental master plan to support the city’s pursuit of improved environmental performance. Once completed, the city’s plan will outline strategies and concepts to safeguard residents and visitors against outdoor air pollution, water pollution, contaminated soil and properties, groundwater pollution and litter and aquatic trash. The planning began in 2019, but was delayed due to COVID.
Delonda Kerr at Fort Worth City Hall, explained the Adopt a Spot program, which allows volunteers to adopt public spaces like parks, medians and roadways for regular litter cleanups and other maintenance activities. It’s a serious commitment: two years are required. And there are various forms of adoption, such as litter only, which focuses on cleaning up litter and occasional plantings for beautification. Participants might also choose a maintenance adoption, which is more involved, including mowing and irrigation, plus the cleanups. This requires a formal contract with the city. The contract is for a minimum of two years. Interested parties might choose to Adopt a Street, Adopt a Median or Adopt a Park. And, of course, there are safety guidelines that must be followed. In keeping with all these cities, adopt the mindset: Stop it; report it; and pick it up! It only takes a minute to pick up papers, bottles or whatever has been left behind.