Why do you Litter?
"Why do you litter?" I asked, from across the table.
A few minutes before, I was about to enter a restaurant, with two others, when one in our party, a relative I'll just call Paul, pitched the remains of his cigarette to the curb. I laughed, saying, "Sorry, I'll have to give you one of these," as I handed him a 'Thank You for Your Donation' card from the Museum of Litter.
As we were seated waiting for the waitress, Paul looked over the card which, on the back, informs a litterer how long it takes commonly littered items to decompose.
I asked Paul, "Can I ask you why you litter? When I see people litter, I always wonder what they're thinking. I'd really like to know."
"To tell you the truth," he volunteered, " I don't really litter. I keep everything in my van and throw it out once a week. I only toss cigarette butts. I'll tell you why. It probably sounds strange coming from someone who likes to smoke, but the butts stink and I don't want to smell up my van."
I told Paul I could understand his reasoning and offered my mother's solution. In her car, she put out her cigarettes in a plastic cup filled with baking soda. That eliminated odor in her car until she could throw the butts out in a trash can.
We talked a little more about where cigarette butts end up, in the storm drains, the water supply, the ocean, ingested by fish, fowl and turtles. Paul knew the filters contained plastic but had never thought about what happened to the butts once they left his hand. He freely admitted, "I guess it's really selfish of me just being concerned about myself and the smell in my van."
That didn't stop Paul from littering a couple of more times in my presence. He's been smoking since he was nine so the habit is automatic. However, he did it with a self conscious laugh that shows at least he's catching himself thinking about it. It's Paul's choice, but at least now he'll make it consciously.
Thank you, Paul, for having that honest conversation about littering. If more of us could have that conversation we could quickly find a way that would work for smokers and the environment.