hiking and litter removal project. I made it my mission to document and dispose of every piece of trash I encountered. Even on the remote and well-maintained trails I traversed, there was an appalling amount to be found—the collage above shows just a fraction.
While the 20 pounds of waste that I removed helped clean up those trails, it is nothing compared with the tons of litter that continue to defile America’s cities, towns, and natural lands. Littering is especially insidious in that it begets itself. People are much more likely to toss a wrapper on the ground when they see that others have already done the same.
Unsurprisingly, the severity of our littering problem has equally enormous costs—up to $15 billion annually in the U.S. alone. That estimate doesn’t include indirect costs of littering, including health risks and decreases in property values, commerce, and tourism.
These negative effects are lasting ones. If a person lives to be 100, they’ll have made it just 1% through the million-year lifespan of the glass bottle they threw on the side of the road. We’re only on the Earth for a short time, but our actions can have far-reaching and long-lasting effects.
But those actions don’t have to harm the environment! We can each dispose of our individual waste and
help others to do the same. We can also make conscious choices to reduce the amount of waste we produce in the first place, such as by drinking from reusable water bottles. By doing so, we show ourselves and future generations that we care about the well-being of our world. When we litter less, we matter more.