Is Mobile’s war against litter a lost cause?
Photo | Ashley Trice
Earlier this month, Mayor Sandy Stimpson kicked off a “comprehensive anti-litter” campaign called “Litter-Free Mobile.” The program, which will be spearheaded by the city’s Chief Resiliency Officer, Casi Callaway aims to “have an organized focus on education, prevention, collection and enforcement.”
In a press release, Callaway said, “Littering isn’t just illegal because litter is unsightly, expensive to clean up or because it has a devastating impact on tourism and our fisheries. It directly impacts our water quality because everything that lands on the ground eventually winds up in our waterways. We also know that unchecked litter can contribute to other problems like blight and crime in our community.”
If anyone knows litter and its effects on our waterways it’s Callaway, who spent over two decades at Mobile Baykeeper fighting the good fight trying to keep litter, sewage and industrial toxins out of the asset most Mobilians value most — our waterways.
If anyone can successfully execute this plan, it’s her.
I remember when then-candidate Stimpson first launched his mayoral campaign, litter was a huge priority for him. Obviously, it still is. And I liked that because it is a huge pet peeve of mine, too.
I have my little litter tool and gloves that I use to pick up a variety of disgusting things in front of Lagniappe Word Headquarters in downtown Mobile. There is a city garbage can right near our front door. But why use it when you can just throw your Popeye’s and McDonald’s bags on the ground? Or your half gallon jugs of milk with sour, curdled milk left in the bottom? Or your soiled underwear? Or your tampon applicator? (Yes, all of these things have been found right outside of our office doors, and there have been far filthier things, but you may be eating while reading so I will spare you those.)
I just don’t know if Mobile will ever get its litter problem under control. While I hate to be a pessimist, when it comes to litter, lately I keep humming the Beck song “Lost Cause” in my head.
I’m tired of fightin’, I’m tired of fightin’, fighting for a lost cause.
I am not saying Stimpson and Callaway won’t do their absolute best, but I just think with some of our trashiest Mobilians, there will never be enough “education, prevention, collection or enforcement” methods in the world to stop them from their evil littering ways.
But, I will stay positive and deputize myself as a Litter-Free Mobile Prevention Officer, who will help identify “litter hotspots.” I sure I hope I can get a badge!
My feeling of hopelessness regarding litter has come in large part from my journey down Springhill Avenue every day on my way to and from work.
And it started with COVID.
Last spring when the lockdowns were starting, I noticed a huge increase of trash on the side of Springhill Avenue near the hospitals. And it wasn’t your garden-variety, fast food bags, dirty diapers, empty liquor or soda bottles — though those were still there too — it was all kinds of Personal Protective Equipment or PPE, like gloves, masks and gowns. I actually went on a walk and took pictures of it one morning, and there was just an astonishing amount of this.
And it just made me think, if people aren’t even willing to properly dispose of things that could be covered in a potentially deadly virus, are they ever going to think twice about throwing a potato chip bag out the window? It doesn’t seem likely. And I don’t how anyone can ever “fix” that kind of absolute indifference to your surroundings and community.
The trail of discarded PPE ended as the pandemic seemed to get under control, but it will be interesting to see if we will see another spike in PPE disposal along with the spike in new cases due to the Delta variant. Let’s hope not.
But the other “hot spot” that has made me crazy and despondent is also on Springhill Avenue in front of the historic, former Raphael Semmes School, which is slated to be a residential treatment and detox for veterans in the near future. It will obviously be a wonderful new resource to help veterans who are struggling in our community, but they haven’t started on the project yet. And for some reason in the last few months the areas surrounding that building – and on both sides of the street — often look like the Trash Heap from “Fraggle Rock.” If you aren’t familiar with that reference just replace it with “small landfill.”
Many of the people hanging around there look like they are definitely struggling with a variety of mental, substance and/or housing security issues, which, of course, is horrible and hopefully someone (or some of our great organizations) can help them. And it is obvious someone goes out there to try and clean it up from time to time, but it seems like it only takes a few hours for it to get trashed right back up again. Whoever is bagging it up must feel like they are throwing a deckchair off the Titanic every time they do it.
This area, along with an abandoned building just down the way on the opposite side of the street, (the former USS Auto Sales) which is always full of trash and overgrown weeds, just makes me particularly sad, frustrated and embarrassed. Because this is the thoroughfare many of the people from out of state take as they are travelling to our beaches, and THIS is the impression they are getting of our city. And that just makes me sick. Because I know we have a much better story to tell.
I applaud the city for trying this new initiative, and perhaps in a few months, they will have me singing a different tune. Maybe it isn’t such a lost cause. I sure hope so.
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