Our View: Litter, litter everywhere and some folks just don’t care

Damian Gilbert, Wilkes-Barre, puts on an orange safety vest as he prepares to participate in a cleanup of Mayflower Park in Wilkes-Barre during the Great American Cleanup last weekend. Charlotte Bartizek | For Times Leader -

Have you ever felt an overwhelming urge to take off your socks and throw them out the car window?

Don’t laugh, because there are folks out there who apparently do such things.

How else could you explain the four or five socks picked up roadside by one volunteer during an extensive cleanup of West Hazleton parks and streets for the Great American Cleanup last weekend.

Right here in Wilkes-Barre, some Times Leader employees were taken aback by the dozens of bottles they found while sprucing up land near Market Street.

Elsewhere in the city, cleanup volunteers in the Rolling Mill Hill area near Solomon Creek recalled an “unsettling” story from last year.

“A family moved out of an apartment and simply dumped all their belongings in the creek,” said Maria Dobish.

In an era of declining civic participation (just look at the paltry percentage of people who voted in the last primary), should we be surprised about a corresponding decline in civic pride?

Probably not. And that’s sad.

But on the other hand, there are many people out there willing to devote hours of their own time on a sunny weekend day for the benefit of the community. That’s encouraging.

Frank Schmidt, who just completed eight years as West Hazleton’s mayor, has been taking part in Earth Day cleanups for 35 years.

“I think it’s getting worse every year,” said Schmidt of the trashy conditions he encounters.

Schmidt found a few diapers littering the streets last Saturday. In past years, his group of volunteers has found everything from a big jar of pennies to sex toys while cleaning up a miles-long stretch of Route 924.

“People dump everything you could think of from their home,” he said. ”It’s a shame.”

Cleaning up someone else’s mess is dirty, thankless work. But it’s important to keep doing it, no matter how many garbage bags it takes.

Keeping public spaces tidy could bring towns more than high marks for cleanliness since there’s a psychological aspect to this issue as well.

People tend to act in accordance with what they perceive about their physical environment, studies about littering have shown. For instance, if they see litter everywhere on a street, they might be more inclined to litter themselves.

Some have even theorized that unkempt public spaces — think broken windows on dilapidated buildings in a debris-strewn end of town — increase the risk for disorderly or criminal behavior.

It’s all about how people perceive, sometimes unconsciously, how they “should” act given the physical factors that surround them.

Bottom line: Clean streets, pristine parks and a neat, tidy landscape encourage good behavior by elevating mindsets.

Sounds simple, but it’s true.

So, let’s all do our part to do a bit of cleaning up every week, not just for Earth Day. Everyone could pitch in to help with an effort that might pay big dividends in the long run.

Oh, and make sure to hold onto your socks, too.

— Times Leader

Damian Gilbert, Wilkes-Barre, puts on an orange safety vest as he prepares to participate in a cleanup of Mayflower Park in Wilkes-Barre during the Great American Cleanup last weekend. Charlotte Bartizek | For Times Leader
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_TTL-04222018-cleanup-1-1-1-2.jpgDamian Gilbert, Wilkes-Barre, puts on an orange safety vest as he prepares to participate in a cleanup of Mayflower Park in Wilkes-Barre during the Great American Cleanup last weekend. Charlotte Bartizek | For Times Leader