Her home is situated behind an apartment building. Not a high-rise, an older six-storey building. An eight-foot fence in Marilyn’s backyard separates her property from the apartment building’s parking lot. Looking to the back of her yard she spied some colored objects and went to investigate. A number of small plastic toys lay scattered at the fence line.
Marilyn’s first instinct was to check with her next-door neighbor to see if the items belonged to the children living there. Neighbor John, who happens to be a litter-loather, disavowed any ownership of the playthings.
“Then it hit me,” Marilyn said. “Someone in the parking lot had cleaned out their car and had thrown the stuff over the fence into my yard.”
“So I gathered it up and threw it back.”
There was a pause. I knew my friend had more to say by the reflective tilt to her head and her slight nod.
“I know I should not have littered even in that situation,” she acknowledged, “but by my clearing it away, nobody would learn anything. “
My friend raises a valid point. Picking up after someone who litters does not teach that person anything. But neither does heaving kids’ toys back over the fence.
I’ve had others tell me that they refuse to pick-up litter because they think the litterer should do it. That’s a fair comment. The tidy person who joins clean-up brigades does double-duty, first by not littering and then by picking up after others. Someone who litters gets the picture of a society devoted to the task of cleaning up his or her mess and so continues tossing/dropping/ flicking and leaving trash behind.
Yet littering begets more littering. Undoing it takes time and a little bit of effort, but is satisfying. If the goal is to teach someone about not littering one can take another tack.
The next time I talk to my friend, I will tell her I have reflected on her predicament and have suggestions what might work to solve her problem.
A meaningful lesson would be delivered in collecting the materials in a bag and taking them to the building’s property manager. Explain the problem, or drop it off with a note. Suggest that no littering signs be installed or perhaps a few inexpensive planter boxes filled with colourful annuals. People tend to litter less in well-kept areas.
Write a letter asking for the parking lot to be kept clean. Maybe there is a tenant’s group established there who would want to help. While all this takes time and energy, it can lead to rewards.
But, in Marilyn’s shoes, I would have bagged the little toys and put them in my garbage bin.