As a former news guy, it’s hard to keep one’s hands off the news biz.
So it is that I sent an op-ed column to the Charlotte Observer about the deplorable amount of trash – measured in the tons – along Charlotte streets.
The editor, Taylor Batten, said he’d be glad to look at my rant.
But timing is everything. The next day came the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the subsequent civil unrest here. If I were Batten, I’d of pushed my column aside, too. The paper had far bigger issues than mine. I’ve not heard from him since, and don’t expect to.
Here’s what I wrote – along with it were 12 photos of the sordid mess along our streets.
It’s not just politics that are a mess, our streets are, too
In this season of political animus, let’s set aside our differences – momentarily, please? – to focus on the one thing we can all agree on without calling for a special session in Raleigh.
Charlotte’s streets are a mess.
Yep. We’ve got a veritable trash heap of junk, litter and debris along the more than 2,400 miles of city-maintained streets. And that’s not counting the highways and byways in neighboring locales. (Let’s call it ‘Metro filth’ so we can share the shame from one town to the next.)
Hopefully you’re not reading this online as you cruise down Tryon or Steele Creek or Albemarle Road. But if you are, put your phone down long enough to gaze at the flotsam not only junking up the curb but the medians and sidewalks. Take a good look at your neighborhood, too.
Your first reaction – beyond ‘Yuck’ – ought to be that this is an avoidable eyesore. None of that junk should be where it is.
It’s a litter disaster of embarrassing proportions. Just what we want visitors, potential businesses and others to see. Like it or not, city cleanliness is one way how non-Charlotteans judge us.
Subhead: An issue of enormous proportions
Yet there’s an environmental and physical enormity to this visual blight.
If that broken chunk of styrofoam cup or plastic bottle lying on the pavement makes it to our storm drains, it’s sayonara. The next stop is McAlpine or Sugar Creek or some other waterway or lake downstream. Our waste becomes someone else’s problem, not to mention the adverse impacts on water, land and wildlife.
Then there is the sheer scope of the problem. My daily walk is one 2.5 mile lap around the same block – Sharon View to Colony to Fairview to Sharon and then home.
When I step out the door, with me is a plastic grocery bag and I literally stoop to conquer: everything from fast food packages to discarded bottles to you-name-it go into in the bag and later the recycle bin.
Let’s round off the daily average gross weight of what I corral at roughly three pounds (I’ve picked up a low of a few ounces to more than 20 lbs.). Think about it – the same route. Every day. At three lbs. per circuit that’s 1,095 lbs. – one-half ton – of yearly trash along my route alone.
Extrapolating that to the 2,400 miles of city streets equals an astonishingly sickening 7,200 lbs. of litter cluttering up our streets day in and day out.
Subhead: Shudder at 1,314 tons of uncontained litter
Here’s a thought that should make us shudder: If there’s that much litter along my relatively short path day after stinking day that is picked up, Charlotte has to figure out how to contend with 2,628,000 lbs. (1,314 tons) of unwanted and utterly unnecessary debris strewn along city streets over the course of a year with much of it not collected. Drive or walk around and see for yourself.
By any measure, it’s a deplorable situation. As trite as it sounds, can’t Charlotte do better? Yeah, you say, but aren’t Chicago, New York and Los Angeles dirtier? Maybe. Yet I don’t worry about them. I worry about us.
Subhead: You’re part of the solution
There are questions each of us should ask: How can I make a difference? What can I do to help?
If you’re among the miscreants who blithely throw things out your car window, stop. There’s always begging or perhaps more-more-more fines to jolt scofflaws out of their carelessness. Still, tossers are gonna toss.
That leaves you and me to do the admitted dirty work. It’s easy to pass it off as someone else’s problem. Shouldn’t we, however, shoulder some civic responsibility to keep our neighborhoods clean? City crews can only do so much.
So the final answer is relatively simple. Even if you don’t lug a bag around with you, pick something up. Put it in your recycle bin. Do your part. Just be sure to wash your hands when you’re done.