Several years ago, while I was still an active Air Force Reservist, I was deployed to Belgium on a NATO exercise. Where we were in Belgium was near Brussels in the Frankish (French-speaking) part of the country, a charming little town next to a military airfield, which was our operating base for about three weeks.
What struck me as I spent time in this place was the cleanliness of the streets and highways. No litter. No beer or soda cans. Not even discarded newspapers or other trash. A few years later, on a vacation trip to several European-area countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and the United Kingdom, I noticed the same thing. Clean streets, no litter, and no discarded trash.
What I saw didn’t really sink in until I returned to the United States and took a look at our streets, roads and highways. You guessed it. Beer cans, soda bottles and cans, newspapers, even discarded furniture in some cases. In other words, not that great an impression for a visitor or a person just traveling in our area.
It isn’t just in our own county and state. In much of America our countryside’s beauty is marred by an accumulation of trash and other discarded items. The Adopt-a-Highway program is definitely a big help but we still see way too much litter.
We live in what some people have termed a “throw-away” society. We don’t get many things in containers that can be re-used, whether it be motor oil, soft drinks, or food items. I like being able to take the recyclable items and place them for pickup and actual re-use or other methods of recycling them. These programs do help take a lot of this trash off our streets and out of the environment.
I live in a semi-rural suburban neighborhood with a street frontage of about 150 feet or so, and most weeks I spend part of my time picking up bottles, cans and discarded take-out food containers, something I don’t think I should have to do.
Probably nine out of ten people who read this column would never throw trash out of their vehicles onto another person’s property or onto a public right-of-way, but the one out of ten who do spoil it for the rest of us.
Why do our friends overseas have such clean surroundings in contrast to America— “America the Beautiful?” I think it comes down to self-respect and a desire to live in clean surroundings. We live in a beautiful community, in a beautiful state, in a beautiful country. As Americans we should not tolerate anyone messing those vistas up. Nor should we ourselves ever litter, or improperly dispose of trash or refuse.
We can do better, and we should do better. Think about it. Reuse, recycle, repurpose. And let’s not litter, ever.
WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.