Imagine yourself driving and the car next to you rolls down their window and tosses a cigarette butt out. It’s a common occurrence that I’ve witnessed many times so I expect you have too, or maybe you’re one of the 75 percent of people that have admitted to littering. The tiny cigarette butt takes years to decompose and has earned a nickname as a “toxic tea bag” due to its extreme toxicity to the environment. In a study, scientists found chemicals from one filtered cigarette butt had the ability to kill half the fish living in a one-liter container of water.
More than 30 percent of litter is cigarette butts but there are also fast food wrappers, straws, caps, bags, tires and the unexpected. Keep America Beautiful (KAB) conducted a large study on litter published in 2010. KAB estimated there are 51.2 billion pieces of litter on roadways nationwide and the majority (91 percent) measures less than four inches. Cleaning up this litter costs the U.S. more than an estimated $11.5 billion each year.
Litter can decrease home values, impact tourism, and have an effect on wildlife and the environment. Wildlife can ingest litter mistaking it for food, can become entangled in debris and can be affected by the toxicity of the chemicals in their habitat. Litter comes in all sizes from refrigerators to the tiny. New research has exposed the harmful effects of small microbeads found in facial scrubs and soaps. Microbeads, made of plastic, rinse down the drain unable to be filtered and enter our creeks and rivers. There, the toxic microbeads resemble food and enter the aquatic life food chain. The larger litter causes similar wildlife ecology damage and can also block small creeks and rivers increasing the chances of floods.
Litter ends up in our waterways, making its way to the Trinity River and then downstream to the Gulf of Mexico. A study in 2014 estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic trash ended up in the ocean from the land every year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) equates that large number to the equivalent of five plastic bags filled with trash for every foot of coastline around the world. Marine litter is a long lived threat to our oceans. Our litter here in Dallas ends up on the coast far more than we can make it to Aransas for our annual summer vacation.
Littering and dumping is illegal, but it still happens often. Dumping is disposing of your trash, tires, yard waste, appliances, and other waste materials without the permission of the property owner. In Dallas, dumping of more than 1,000 pounds is a state felony resulting in a fine of up to $10,000 and up to two years in jail.
One easy way to reduce litter is to make sure all of your own trash goes into a proper receptacle. The next step is to do your part to pick up trash around your community. Brandon Giannasi, a musician who always noticed the unbelievable amount of litter around Dallas, decided to make an event around trash pick up. Giannasi says, “Being a musician, I know there is power in music. Why don’t we do something about all this litter and put together an event that gathers a bunch of people to help pick it up and then somehow we can reward them as well.”
Giannasi’s Trash Bash Music Stash (trashbashmusicstash.com) is looking forward to its second year of success this July 18 at 10 a.m. People can gather at the Truck Yard off lower Greenville Avenue, where they will be dropped by bus to walk a short route to pick up litter and then enjoy a six-band live music event and raffles. The first 100 participants signed up to help pick up trash will receive a $10 gift card to the Truck Yard.
If you can’t make it to the event, that shouldn’t deter you from picking up trash around your community. The City of Dallas has a “Ten on Tuesday” initiative to encourage businesses, schools, community groups and individuals to reverse litter by picking up 10 pieces of trash and recyclable materials each Tuesday. On the Dallas site reverselitter.com they estimate if 5,000 people pick up 10 pieces of litter a week for one year, the Metroplex would reduce litter by 2.6 million pieces!
Every little bit counts. I’ll see you at the Trash Bash Music Stash or out on Tuesdays!
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.