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Column: Take walk in litterer’s shoes to understand trash

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I have to admit that I am a little amused each time Harry McCawley writes another editorial on littering. One more time, Harry will walk down another Columbus pathway and rant about the trash that occupies our beloved architectural spaces.

I do not disagree with him, but I do wonder whom he is talking to. Have you ever noticed that there is very little Republic litter?

Those who litter do not read the paper, especially the editorial, so they miss their chance to throw it into the streets. Sorry about that, Harry.

But this got me thinking about this whole litter thing. And this is in no way any defense of those who litter, but I want to take you on a different journey about this scourge of Columbus. I want you to think about who it is that litters. I want to get in their shoes for a moment and try to understand the world of a litterer. It is not the world of those reading these pages.

I began thinking about this as I was walking my daily walk on the People Trails and picking up the many big Styrofoam cups, the cigarette packs, the fast-food packages, etc. By the way, all those who think that more trash cans would help have not walked the trails enough. I have often seen litter within 10 feet of the trash can.

Trash cans are for those who would never litter. And for those of us who pick up stuff and look for the nearest place to dispose of it. It just does not occur to litterers to put stuff in the can. And I began to wonder why that is.

The more I wondered, the more I felt bad for the litter crowd. Who throws stuff out into the general environment? Most of us would never consider this. So, what is different about someone who seems to have no understanding of the environment they live in? Duh! They have no understanding of being a part of their environment.

Maybe these are people who see themselves as outcasts of our society, powerless people, disconnected from our normal, and the dropping of their trash may be only a meager statement of their little pushback on the rest of us.

Children litter. They do not know better. But most of us will quickly say that since they are adults, “they should know better,” but they do not. This is the sad part of being a litterbug. They just do not know better. Along with that lack of knowing better is typically a not knowing that keeps them in a state of poverty or near poverty.

Have you ever noticed that the poorest sections of Columbus have the most litter? We want to make this some kind of character trait, but I think it is lack of understanding, and worse than that, it is a life sentence to a very hard existence.

People who litter are demonstrating their lack of understanding of how to live in society. That means that they will probably never hold a decent job, sustain their own family or find much happiness in life.

I find this sad more than angering. Again, this is not any justification, but only that when we see all that trash, we need to remember that some human does not get that they are part of something bigger. So, I pick up the trash and put it in the containers that are for me.

We can punish these folks more, and that is the way we usually do things. I am not sure that works. It seems that this act of defying authority will only get stronger or more hidden.

To me, it is a sign that we sometimes miss in our efforts to raise a community that has compassion. That does not mean that we simply accept trash (don’t worry Harry), but it says something about those falling between the cracks.

Columbus retiree Tom Lane served as a consultant to a number of companies in his career. In recent years his has been a familiar name to readers of The Republic’s Letters to the Editor column. He can be reached at

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