The United States of Trash, Dog Shit, Rubber Bands and Dental Floss

UPDATE: July 13, 2017

I continue to be flummoxed by the volume of dental flossers, rubber bands, and plastic bags of dog shit that litter the streets and sidewalk of my neighborhood (see original post below), but now I’ve discovered a new plague: elastic hair bands. The kind that girls use to hold up their pony tails. It’s possible I just never noticed them before, but suddenly, it seems, they are popping up on every sidewalk and in every curbside gutter. Maybe one of my female readers can explain? Do these bands just spontaneously pop from the your head while you’re out walking? This photograph shows a harvest from just a handful of afternoon strolls around Somerville and Cambridge …


June 16, 2016

TIME OUT for a culture rant.

IS THERE such a thing as an “undeveloping country”? We all know about the developing kind, but what about a formerly great country now in the throes of devolving? If there are such places, the United States has to be leading the pack. We live in a nation where nobody wants to pay for, or take responsibility for, anything, and the results are starting to show. We see this in the bigger, macro sense. For instance, we are by some measures the wealthiest nation on earth, yet our infrastructure is rated 29th and is steadily falling to pieces.

But I see it in the small things, too. Take, for example, litter. I see litter and trash as a sort of bellwether for bigger problems. Our airports, to pick one spot (and to keep this conversation at least nominally within the sphere of air travel), are getting dirtier and dirtier. I see discarded cups and cans in the jet bridges, overspilling barrels, filthy curbsides, and apron and ramp areas that are just aswarm with trash. It didn’t used to be this way, and it’s not this way anywhere else in the world. I was at LAX not long ago on a windy afternoon, and the wind currents, whipping between two concourses, had created a sort of garbage cyclone — a great, rotating, three-story cloud of paper and plastic and styrofoam and dust. It was awesome.

There’s the litter itself, and also the human indifference to it. I’m not sure those are different things, but it drives me crazy when I see an airport employee step over a crushed coffee cup or a wadded up newspaper sitting on the floor of the jetway. Hey, it’s not my job! When I do the preflight, walk-around inspection of my aircraft, I’ll often scoop up an entire arm-full of refuse along the way — cups, bags, fasteners, locks, miscellaneous plastic luggage shards, wheels, and so on — because heaven forbid the apron workers bother to pick any of it up. Would this happen in Munich or Dubai or Osaka?

Then there’s my neighborhood. I’ll let a picture do the explaining. This snapshot was taken recently in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is a it extreme, but it’s not unusual, and even the tidier neighborhoods around here are strewn with litter in a way that simply wasn’t the case in years past. Some of the traffic islands around Boston look like a dumpster exploded. When did it become acceptable for drivers at red lights to simply heave their trash out the window? Because, apparently, everybody is doing it.

Trash 1

We also need to talk about dog shit.

Pet owners in my neighborhood are for the most part diligent when it comes to cleaning up after their dogs, tidily stuffing the droppings into small plastic bags. So far, so good, right? Except, the new custom is to simply leave the plastic bag sitting on the ground, thus turning one problem (dog waste) into two problems (dog waste and plastic). You’ve doubled the amount of litter, and you’ve made it permanent. Dog crap by itself is at least natural and biodegrade.

I can’t fathom the thought process of a person who would do this. As the kids would say, WTF? But obviously I’m missing something, because lots of people find it defensible. Every day I encounter more and more of these bags. Cambridge and Somerville are absolutely littered with them. It’s not merely a local thing, though. I’ve been seeing these bags in parks and on walking trails across the country, and even in other countries (including one in the pretty grass courtyard behind Chartres cathedral, in France!).

Dog Shit

Dog Shit 2

This one, though, is my favorite. Here you can actually see four separate bags. This is just around the corner from my house, and I watched as the bags were added, one at a time, over a period of several days, presumably by the same dog-walker:

Four Bags

Or this multi-bag collection, photographed near the Davis Square subway station.

And when I say it’s the small things, sometimes it’s the really small things.

Somebody needs to explain where the profusion of plastic dental flossers has come from. These blasted little things are everywhere. I never, ever, see pedestrians or drivers actually flossing, yet somehow these discarded flossers are popping up on every sidewalk and curb. Do they self propagate? Is there an army of secret night-flossers who roam around in the dark, keeping their gums healthy while sprinkling the ground with these things? (And yes, I know about the flossers in Infinite Jest.) I’m all for dental hygiene, but take your disgusting mouth picks home with you and dispose of them properly.

It’s funny, because according to some studies, flossing your teeth is mostly a waste of time. This has been long an open secret, apparently, but dental professionals have been loath to go public on the matter, perhaps fearing backlash from the influential flossing lobby (“Big Floss” has deep pockets). I learned about this in The Guardian. The Guardian is a U.K. publication. The Brits gave up on flossing years ago, and have since been laughing at the American obsession with the practice. It’s ironic, I know, that the Brits would be lecturing to anybody about dental health, but they may have this one right. The big question is whether or not this might result in a reduction of the number of plastic flossers littering American cities.

These beautiful collages (I actually spent a fair bit of time tinkering with the placement and textures of each image) were compiled over just two or three brief walks through my neighborhood:

Flosser Collage

Flossers Diamond


Flossers Collage 3

Here, though, is clearly the best of the bunch. This picture was taken below the fuselage of a Boeing 767 at Kennedy Airport, while I was doing the preflight walk-around check!

People don’t seem to care much for public property. Neither, if the streets of my neighborhood are any indication, do they care about the their own. Consider the two front yards in the photos below. The top picture shows the house directly next to mine. Mind you I don’t live in an Appalachian trailer park, but in a trendy big-city neighborhood where property values have skyrocketed — a phenomenon untarnished by the fact that certain landlords can’t be bothered with even minimal maintenance. The bottom house is several streets away, on the border with Cambridge and West Somerville — an equally expensive area, where renovated two-family homes, with no backyard and neighbors only inches away on either side, can sell for upwards of a million dollars:



And our final culprit is the United States Postal Service.

Letter carriers around here carry bundles of mail tied with rubber bands. Lots of bundles, and lots of rubber bands. And when they unwrap the bands, what do you think they do with them? Thats right, and so the sidewalks where I live are littered with thousands of little brown noodles. What you see in the photo is about a month’s worth of bands picked up from around my neighborhood. Would it really be that difficult for USPS workers to shove these things into a pocket? And in case you didn’t realize it, they’re reusable!

And with that, for now, I am finished. Curmudgeon meter pegged.



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75 Responses to “The United States of Trash, Dog Shit, Rubber Bands and Dental Floss”
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  1. Len Drasin says:

    Don’t take this wrong, as I’m a fan of yours, but as a retired dentist, I take strong issue on your stand against flossing. After many years of practice, it was obvious to me, how my patients who were regular flossers, benefited greatly. They had significantly lower rates of dental decay, and also of gum disease. The evidence you cited is not universally accepted by dental academia.

  2. Dave Ventre says:


    Just ran across your very interesting site!

    As for the litter, I am surprised that you didn’t include a section on New Jersey Beach Whistles.


  3. JayDee says:

    I’ve not purchased rubber bands in over a decade. Rather, I continually pick-up perfectly good USPS rubber bands from around our condo mailboxes. Mind you, I don’t seek them out – I just spot them and snag ’em (yoink!) as discovered. Shhh, please don’t wreck my rich source! It’s as if I were a Great Depression recycler of daily items – string, foil, rubber bands etc.

    I’ll pass on the dental picks, thanks.

  4. JamesInLondon says:

    Are you serious? One of the most polluting industries in the world is the airline industry! Do you honestly think that hair bands on your sidewalks are worse than the warming that emerging countries who can’t even afford rubber bands?

  5. Anas Iqbal says:

    Hello there,
    You have brought me into tears. While I collect myself a lot of trash around my workplace and residence, the way you have read the article has just made all my emotions resurface again. I live in Canada. I do not see this problem as much but the rate at which this carelessness is spreading, it won’t take long.

    I just do not know why someone in their right minds throw litter? Aren’t we developed countries or call ourselves such. Should not we lead by example. The most gruesome scene is when I see parents do it. What kind of lesson we are giving to our kids.

    Our behaviors as a society are in shambles, let’s face it hear, we have made all the things just OK which used to be frowned upon: public drinking, pornography, littering on streets, marijuana. We think showing off the bodies of our females who used to be the respect and prime of our households. We find it cool, attractive and exciting. And yes while it could be attractive, it is not the right thing to do. Sin is always attractive and pulls humans towards themselves and then comes the moral compass. And when the moral compass is dead well then this is what happens. And yet we all do it in the name of freedom and liberalism. Our morals really need an overhaul or we should all be grounded.

  6. Mark says:

    Yeah, I agree but I don’t succumb to the compulsion and collect all the trash. If that’s how people want to live, then fine. My rules are not everyone else’s.

  7. Isabel says:

    The dogshit in bags is infecting my town (not that far from Cambridge/Somerville, I wander down there regularly in nice weather), as well. When signs started going up that owners would be fined for not cleaning up (unsure how police would figure out whose dog did what, save for a DNA test as I’ve heard some communities doing) it got worse. I even see bags neatly placed next to a trash can (or on the rim). Is it that hard to extend your hand the extra few inches to actually get it in the can?

    Good to see I’m not the only one noticing more and more of those flossers everywhere and wondering WTF. It’s kinda fascinating watching The Big Melt in spring uncovering all the trash and dogshit that piled up over the winter.

  8. Sterling Harris says:

    I have hiked frequently in trails from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, from Mount Whitley to Newport Beach. In all these places, people are extending the shelf-life of their dog’s poop with plastic bags left on the trails. I appreciate the photos that you have provided, Patrick. It helps to emphasize the eyesore that is leaving this type of refuse in the wild instead of finding a trash can in which to dispose of your waste.

    • Art Knight says:

      It’s not just the dog doo Sterling. I was backpacking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and it was late and started to rain. I was at a shelter and ducked in hoping to spend the night. I wondered what the stench was and when I went ’round back, the ground was full of piles of human poop! I walked on in the rain and set my tent up a mile away. I wondered about these people…a plastic trowel is only $3.99. If a cat can cover it’s stuff, why can’t you?

      I avoid National Parks now and usually only backpack in wilderness areas.

  9. Vanessa says:

    Yes. Yes, and more Yes.
    For years I have made it a habit to pick up other people’s trash. It’s so easy and I always wonder why everyone doesn’t do it. No one taught me to do it (though I was raised to never litter) but I’ve always wondered why it isn’t a more instinctive reaction on everyone’s part just to pick something up if they see it on the ground, especially when it’s usually right by a bin.
    When I see someone casually litter, i.e. wrap a stick of gum or a cigarette package and let the little piece of cellophane flutter to the ground as though it was no longer related to them in any way, I often chase them down and return it to them as though they had dropped a $100 bill, breathlessly telling them that I saw that they dropped it and that I was afraid they would miss it later. Often they look at the item in genuine disbelief that it was ever theirs to begin with. It’s maddening.

  10. Art Knight says:

    The flosser photos are quite artistic!

    I floss at least every evening, but the flossers are not mine, I swear! I am “old spool.”

    From The Guardian article: “Professor Damien Walmsley of Birmingham University, said, “People are different and large studies are costly to do … until then you can’t really say yes or no.” My teeth are very close together and if I go a day or two without flossing, I can tell my gums have become inflamed.

    On the other hand, this did make me laugh. “Procter & Gamble…(who)claims that its floss fights plaque and gingivitis, pointed to a two-week study…” Ha, ha! I have a degree in science and have been trained at P&G. A TWO-WEEK study? Seriously? Did they run out of money?

    Whether it has health benefits or not, I do it because it makes me feel good, like recycling. Even though the only materials that are economically worth recycling are metals such as copper & aluminum, and corrugate. Penn & Teller did a hilarious show on recycling in their series, most delicately titled “BULLSHIT!”

    • Mark says:

      2 weeks is a Marketing study. It’s not science. People feel good when they buy something that promises to improve their lives. P&G profits…

    • David says:

      I had to read that a couple of times. After all the talk about dog shit, when I first read your reply I thought you said you were “old stool.” It was “relieved” upon re-reading.

  11. Art Knight says:

    The dog doo is the worst. People are so bizarre about it. I don’t have a dog, but at least a couple times each summer I step in it while mowing my lawn! My neighbor would walk his dog, bag the poop and bring it home, placing it upon his black-topped driveway. Thankfully I live west of him, but on hot summer days, when the wind was out of the east, I could not go outside. I finally couldn’t take it anymore and asked him why he did it. “Because I don’t want our trash can to smell!” Thankfully, the dog has since died and I can breathe again.

  12. Art Knight says:

    Patrick, you are hilarious! It is not just your neighborhood.

    I ride a motorcycle with floor-boards and had to ride around with my foot sticking to it and my gear-shifter. Once I got home it took me half an hour to clean the gum off my boot and bike.

    Cigarette butts are another. People used to use the ashtrays in their cars, now they just toss them out the window or outside of the store before they walk in.

    I have walked past a used condom at a Target parking lot. It was tied closed like a little balloon. A used baby diaper in the same lot, folded closed and placed upon the ground.

    My neighbors park in front of my house and every week I have to go out and pick up the trash that falls from their vehicles.

    I came home one rainy day to find my landscape timber curb smashed and a huge circle of mud where my front lawn used to be. My neighbor told me it was North Shore Gas. They had driven a backhoe over my timber and cut a limb off of one my trees to turn off the gas valve buried in my yard. They left all of their fast food bags and cups in my front yard. As I was picking up the trash, I noticed they also left a Stihl chainsaw. I really love using that chainsaw!

  13. Gail says:

    Try Philadelphia. I wish I had a picture to post. There are many, MANY blocks where the curbside of the entire block is littered with trash. And yes, where I live in the suburbs of said city, dog shit is a real problem. Owners have utter disregard for their neighbors.

  14. Alejandra says:

    Have you ever been in New York?!!!!! It’s a garbage town I hate it. I cannot understand why is this city called the best in the world. It is the dirtiest city I’ve ever seen and I was born in a “third world county” why everybody throw a the garbage bags in the curb and not a bin for the garbage truck??!

  15. tora stone says:

    When I was a kid we would collect pop bottles and beer bottles, take them back to the shop and get money for them. No broken glass all over the streets. We would even ask at houses if they had any to get rid of.

    These elastic bands are strong and useful. You could gather lots of them, soak them in a bucket of soapy water and dry them, bag them up or link them in a paper clip and sell them in small batches.

    I am quite sure you don’t see this litter problem in Japan.

  16. Lurk says:

    On rubber bands. A long time ago I used to work for The Royal Mail and I’d walk around the sorting offices and there would be a litter of bands (ours were letter box red) everywhere. Being tidy minded and *ahem* careful with my money I asked why they weren’t being picked up for re-use. Turned out somebody had done the sums and it was cheaper to sweep them up and bin them and use new rather than collect them. It may be the USPS has done similar sums and decided that having the postman lug the bands back for re-use is too expensive. There is also the problem that rubber bands seem to perish at an unpredictable rate and the hassle/delay/costs incurred as a result of packets of letters falling apart because of perished bands may also influence the decision not to re-use them.

    Putting that lot to one side, they _should_, at the very least, put the damn things in a bag for disposal back at the sorting office.

    You’re right about a lot of the new airline liveries. No style, no elegance. In a word, tasteless.

  17. Liz says:

    I found this post by searching for what people had written about the bizarre phenomenon of the flosser litter. What the heck? And only to find that you’re in Cambridge as I am. I am 100% in agreement about the “undeveloping” characterization. I despair as I walk or drive in the area at the sight of trash strewn sidewalks and roadways. We are becoming a country of “deplorables” IMO.

  18. Mo says:

    Sadly, people seem more self-absorbed with every year that goes by. I apparently live in a neighborhood with both less-then-conscientious dog owners AND passive aggressive neighbors. I walk my dog twice a day a dutifully pick up after her. Many of my neighbors do the same. However, one has a tendency of dropping the bags along the way with the intention of collecting them again on the return trip. She talks on her phone while walking the dog so I guess it is too inconvenient to hold the phone and the dog and the poop bag. She doesn’t always get the bag on the way back. One day I came home to find one of the bags in my mailbox. I guess some thought it was mine and wanted to teach me a lesson. After all, I have a dog, so it MUST be me, right? Sigh . . . At least the people down the street who never picked up after their giant schnauzer moved out.

  19. dave houston says:

    I see lots of coffee cups. Many are tossed away within a few feet of a garbage can. Slobs. How hard can it be to walk over the extra few feet and put it in the garbage can.

    I think it’s s symptom of a larger problem. I think people don’t want to take personal responsibility for anything anymore. They have become reliant on the government to take care of them

  20. dave houston says:

    I see lots of coffee cups. Many are tossed away within a few feet of a garbage can. Slobs. How hard can it be to walk over the extra few feet and put it in the garbage can.

    I think it’s s symptom of a larger problem. I think people don’t want to take personal responsibility for anything anymore. They have become reliant on the government to take care of them.

  21. Jennifer. says:

    I had a sighting! I saw a woman flossing in her car, using one of the plastic flossers. She was stopped a light, and seemed very focused on her task. I wondered if she flossed only while stopped or if she worked on her teeth while her car was moving – seems like that could be dangerous for your gums – those picks are sharp.

  22. Fox Mulder says:

    In the state where I live, all yards or vacant lots must have a minimum of two wrecked cars per yard or vacant lot. In some cases, you can get credit for large boats. (There are no large bodies of water anywhere near where I live to use the boats on). Stacked tires are minimum 4 tires with no maximum. In the very rural area where I live, you are obligated to add rooms on to your modular/mobile homes until it looks like there is a house eating your mobile. This requirement includes quarter million dollar custom made log homes.

    There is a home near me that looks entirely site built, but it is a double wide mobile covered to look like a site built house. A 40 year old mobile across the street recently burned-the only parts not destroyed totally were the additions.

    We don’t have very good dental hygiene, so no flossing sticks; although you see an alarming number of people using them. Usually in restaurants when you are trying to eat.

  23. Dave T says:

    Disgusting as the photos are (their subjects, that is) the one that jumps out to me is the side yard with picket fence. The sloppy and ugly manner by which the cable TV wires were installed– or allowed to be installed– by the very OWNER of that property shows all you need to know about the utter disregard people have for good order, beauty, consideration, and their surroundings. What a disgusting mess! It is no wonder they regard other peoples’ space, including public space, with such contempt.

  24. Dave T says:

    Joe- “Lately”? Hardly. Thirty-five years ago it was Ronny Reagan who famously proclaimed, “Government IS the problem.” His fellow party compatriots, whether in Congress or the White House, have been proving him right ever since.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Joe- “Lately”? Hardly. Thirty-five years ago it was Ronny Reagan who famously proclaimed, “Government IS the problem.” His fellow party compatriots, whether in Congress or the White House, have been proving him right ever since.

  26. Reader says:

    Dear Eccentric Curmudgeon,

    Have you considered immigrating to Canada? 🙂 Based upon my experience, our Canadian friends are not only clean; they are GOOD LOOKING — not necessarily Australian good looking, but still not hard on the eyes, either!

    Rainman photographed odd items, too. lol

    Joking aside, I hear you.

    * * *

    Los Angeles Times
    February 2, 1985

    Toronto Resists N.Y. Look

    By the Associated Press

    Toronto — Urban garbage seems to be everywhere, except when you really need it.

    Director Sonny Grosso, in town to film episodes of CBS’ “Night Heat,” ordered a massive pile of garbage to make Toronto look more like New York.

    But when the film crew came back from a coffee break, they found the trash had been cleaned up. Filming had to be halted while Grosso ordered more garbage.

    The incident was reported in the American magazine This World, and a delighted city works commissioner Ray Bremner proudly showed off copies to aldermen at a recent meeting.

    © 1985 The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times

  27. Aija says:

    this was an awesome piece of writing. I laughed, I agreed, I nodded my head many times, and having lived in many different suburbs of Boston for the longest part of my American life. You are totally right about the crap and the dirt and 3/4 million dollar properties that are ok with garbage being there and you make me laugh because it is ultimately so incredibly insane that somehow all that dirt, especially the tooth flosses, are now everywhere.

    I now live in another totally paradoxical area that makes no sense to anyone except to people who either vacation here (Hilton Head Island, SC) or own second property here. And I find it extremely comical that everything I thought about the various parts of Boston – I consider Boston my American home as I spent most of my American life IN and around Boston and know it better than most locals – you write about the way I used to think about.

    Awesome writing, enjoy your posts, please rant more often!!!

  28. James Clanton says:

    Unfortunately for most of us, it only takes a few slobs to create a huge mess.

    A while back a guy was walking his dog in front of my house. The dog, being a dog, took a big ol’ poop right on the street. The guy started to walk away so I said “I will give you a bag to pick that up with”. He replied, “no, he did not poop (well poop was not the word)on your lawn”. Dang. So, I did what any over reacting kind of guy would do. I jumped on my bike, and followed him home. Once I ascertained where he lived, I simply scooped the poop and returned it to him. Since he seemed to think that hard-scape was fair game, I deposited it on his driveway. I have not seen him walk by since.

    • Rod Clarke says:

      About 20 years ago when our dog poop laws in Canada were just getting going, a guy let his dog do it on my lawn about 5 yards from where I was standing. I objected and he told me that it was on the town property so he could do what he liked. I picked up my garden spade, scooped it up and followed him home. Dropped it on his doorstep. Never saw him or his dog again. Nowadays it’s almost impossible to see the stuff anywhere as almost everyone in our (small town) downtown neighbourhood carries a bag and uses it.

      In Britain it used to be much worse, but seems to be slowly improving as more signage warns of penalties.

      In a French village we visit it was awful, but is gradually getting better. I congratulated the street sweeper this year on the improvement and he laughed that his job was getting a bit more pleasant.

      In a small Portuguese town we visit it’s terrible, you cant walk anywhere without your eyes firmly on the ground. Almost everyone lives in apartments and just turn the dogs out loose.

      Two things that still infuriate me here in Canada, people who let their dogs crap in the middle of hiking trails with acres of wilderness around, and the ones who empty their ashtrays onto the road at traffic lights. Sheer idleness.

  29. Sam says:

    For the most part,Patrick, I agree with you. But you forgot to mention that the dog shit is bio-degradeable and, in my opinion, a good fertilizer for your grass.

    • David says:

      Dog poop is biodegradible but it needs to degrade in the dog owners personal yard, not mine. That way it can be tracked in to his personal hoouse, not kine. Ans what good is it being in a plastic sack if it is left on the ground? The only good is it is not in the dog owners personal yard for him/her to bother with…..

  30. Joe C says:


    San Francisco only banned plastic water bottles for the city government and for sale on city property. There are still millions of these things everywhere, and you can buy them in any corner store. Feel free to add to the problem if you visit.

  31. Mike says:

    While I agree that it’s disgusting what some folks do, you and I both grew up in Boston in the 70’s. Every hard surface was covered in broken glass and newspaper tubleweeds wandered everywhere.

    I recently saw a brief baseball clip from that era. My eyes were immediately drawn to all the garbage blowing around in the background.

    Also, while poop bags on the ground is just flatout weird, you must remember the poopie minefields from our youth. Dogs ran free and no one cleaned up nothing. “Check your shoes” was the mandate every time coming in from riding Huffies around Glass Shard Lot and passing through Jagged Rusty Metal Memorial Playground.

    Perhaps it’s the general tidiness of things that makes things pop out more. I was aghast at finding a Bud Light can at the edge of my lawn. “My Stars!”

  32. Mark Harrison says:

    I live in another country but I have been a frequent visitor to the USA over the past 30 odd years and over the past 40 years I have visited half of the rest of the world.

    Let me say at the outset; I love the USA, I love visiting there, I love the people, most of the people I have met in the USA fall well within one standard deviation of the population of the rest of the planet as being decent people.

    And I am sure you are a well meaning and decent person too.

    Caveats aside: If you believe that the problems of the USA are created by illegal immigrants from developing countries, you are sadly mistaken.

    I don’t think it is my place to tell you what I think your country’s problems are; but I think that (metaphorically) your country should be looking for a mirror, not a telescope.

  33. Dave B says:

    People are their own worst enemy.

  34. Kozmo says:

    Oh, I don’t think we need any help in this regard at all from anybody else from anywhere.

  35. Kozmo says:

    Exactly so. Little things DO matter, they are the canaries in the coal mine of our declining manners and attitudes and social disintegration.

    I can’t believe we abolished pull tabs for canned drinks and we rush to ban smoking everywhere only to create even MORE litter possibilities in other ways.

    The Pilot is spot-on with this critique. Americans are pigs. We complain about high taxes — well, some of that money goes to clean up the messes YOU make in public areas. Imagine the savings if people would simply STOP BEING LITTERBUGS! Cleaner streets, parks, forests, and waterways. Why is that so hard for us? Kipling was right to compare humans to the Bandar-Log, the monkey people, who leave chaos and garbage in their wake and are despised by the Free People of the jungle.

  36. Joe says:

    Your observation is same as mine. Somewhere along the way, Americans seem to have given up on their country. This is not surprising. Typically democratic governments are supposed to represent their people and reflect their values. Lately though, we’ve been told over and over again that our government (which we elected and which we are free to change about every 2-4 years) is actually the enemy that can’t do anything right.

    Why would you pay to support such a government? And when government is broke, public spaces and infrastructure are the first to start to feel the effects.

    Sorry, but until the mindset that government is the problem is washed away, you’ll continue to see the decay of America in lots more ways. I am not optimistic.

  37. re: eliminating plastics….
    You would not be able to have any sort of sterile procedure. IV, heart cath or heart bypass, kidney dialysis, etc.. ad infinitum, or pretty much any other procedure or treatment in a hospital without plastics. Be careful what you wish for.
    Yes, we used to have glass IV bottles, for instance. They are much heavier and utilize more fossil fuels to ship (for those of you that worry about such things) Point being, there is no “perfect environmental purity” to shoot for. There are trade offs in the modern world.
    I laughed when San Fran banned plastic water bottles. Just wait til the next earthquake that damages water lines… and they need emergency supplies of water.
    By the way, is it just a ban on bottled water, or are the plastic bottles banned for sodas too?

  38. RJT55 says:

    Amen, brother. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling lately both foreign and domestic. While I’ve never been enamored with airports in the US, the contrast to European airports of all sizes is beyond comprehension. Living in Vermont, while the litter problem is negligible, our roads are the finest the 19th century has to offer. Hopeful though, young people are recognizing the con and as the Reagan lovers die off, I’m off that age but not of that ilk, those who embrace Bernie Sanders might be able to pull off a Second New Deal

  39. Jack Sullivan says:

    Being the richest country in the world doesn’t mean a thing. Money doesn’t care who owns it. And if you think your street corner or airport is a mess, I’m operations manager at a shopping mall just outside Boston. I have a crew that spends four hours each morning picking up exterior litter from the previous day. I wish I had a buck for each syringe and dental floss thingy we find. We have to “snake” ladies toilets a least weekly to unclog pipes and remove nonorganic matter. Some/most people are lazy and/or pigs. Glance inside parked cars in a mall lot some day.

  40. Jennifer. says:

    For a delightful mashup of the two problems, I often see the little plastic flossers on the ramp at my airport. I pick up most of the trash I find, but I really hate touching things that have been between other people’s teeth.

    I have tried to figure out how they get there. Either they fall out of luggage, or the baggage handlers and tug drivers pick their teeth while they’re working then just drop the picks when they’re done. A+ for dental hygiene. F for general tidiness.

  41. Jonnie says:

    The United States has allowed allot of illegal immigration from certain Third World countries where respect for public spaces is minimal or non-existent. The values of these immigrants mend their way into society at large.

  42. Speed says:

    5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans works out to one per quarter million cubic meters of water. That would be one piece of plastic in 100 Olympic sized swimming pools. Neither impressive nor scary.

    If you want to check my numbers start with the volume of the worlds oceans: 1.332 billion cubic kilometers.

    As for the one million animals killed, specifying it that way makes a dead Great Blue Whale equivalent to one dead clam. Both are animals, each would count toward the million but they are quite different.

    And the number. One million? One significant digit? I suspect a guess. A WAG.

    For comparison, the world’s ocean fisheries product 186 billion pounds of fish annually.

    I like Nat Geo’s pictures. Their numbers … not so much.

  43. Jonathan Johnson says:

    We bought our property a few years ago. The previous occupiers apparently valued trash, BECAUSE THEY SAVED EVERY BLASTED PIECE OF IT. Not in any organized manner, either. Over 50 cubic yards of debris went to the landfill (and I’ve seen properties with oh, so much more.)

    It’s really not a new problem. While cities may have been cleaner in the past, many city people saw the rural countryside as their personal dump: many wide spots in the road near where I grew up has piles of track flowing downhill from the road. The closer you are to town, the worse it is.

    When the price of garbage collection is high and dump fees are astronomical, it’s no wonder people don’t care. It’s one thing where spending public money may be justified: make garbage collection “free” and our world just might be a cleaner place.

  44. dave says:

    Yeah, WHAT is it with the dental flossers, i see them when i walk in the residential area near my work. It just seems weird!

  45. Rod says:

    Back to the gyres for a minute. National Geographic’s facebook site said this today: “There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean — and it kills one million animals every year.”
    To get an idea of what this means, imagine you could dispose of that plastic by throwing it away piece by piece. How long would it take if you threw away one piece every second around the clock? Well, if you kept at it, it would take you 166,425 years.

  46. b kooistra says:

    Oh! I’ll mention that at the large corporation I work for, the “environmental” department is always congratulating itself for this or that initiative that proves they’re helping the environment (I might add that this company has deep connections with coal and oil interests, so there’s probably some corporate guilt about all this).

    So, each year on earth day the environmental department hosts an outdoor lunch to celebrate stewardship of the environment. The meal? Hamburgers, byproduct of one of the most environmentally wasteful industries, meat production. The sandwiches are, naturally, served on styrofoam places!

  47. b kooistra says:

    Cracks me up your collection of dental flosser photos. I thought I was the only one compelled to photograph each and every one of these I come across.

  48. Nicholas Robinson says:

    I *lived* in Dakar for a year in 1975.

    All the beaches were pristine. There were no tourists, only fishermen—and us kids.


    Go figure.

  49. MW says:

    I think your secret night-floss army are descended from the British Bedstead Men

  50. nonzenze says:

    Well, I sure hope cities and States will stop incentivizing people to comb through trash looking for $0.05 returnable cans. This putatively environmental measure to increase recycling leads to tons of garbage on the streets and ultimately in our rivers, bays and lakes.

  51. Mark R. says:

    re: the claim that petro plastic can be “recycled”

    Most of the plastic “recycling” is just P.R. for the plastics industry. It’s not really feasible, technically.

    Some plastic is burned (which is ultra toxic) and then the industry claims the heat value has been recycled (plastic is just a form of petrolum).

    It’s also toxic to make plastic, some more than others (PVC is about the worst0.

    Prevention is the only approach that makes sense.

    The fact we are too lazy as a society to wash a cup or plate is one of the factors that suggests we are in decline.

  52. Schenectady Andy says:

    Well said. I wish you’d made a phone video of the trash cyclone, though. That would have been awesomer.

  53. ReadyKilowatt says:

    Well, being the richest country on Earth means we pay someone to clean up after us. At least that’s what we think those trash collectors are doing. Some of this is location too. Out in the ‘burbs it is expected that you will shovel the sidewalk after a snow storm or someone will be happy to fine you. You also can get into trouble for shoveling your driveway out into the street. And finally, I think a lot of people see that disgusting disease-ridden trash that was touched by someone who might be “unclean” and won’t touch it, lest they catch cooties.

  54. MikeO says:

    It is amazing how pervasive trash is. I used to go on dive trips to very remote parts of Indonesia and there would be rafts of garbage floating by with the seaweed. We used to have a joke that the national fish of Indonesia is the flip flop becasue we’d see so many floating in the water.

    • Patrick says:

      I once collected a giant pile of flip-flops on a beach in Senegal. After about an hour of walking around we had close to a hundred of them.

  55. Speed says:

    More on plastic waste. A quick search on “plastic eating microbes” (without the quotes) turns up many interesting articles. Here’s one …

    Using Bacteria to Break Down Plastic Waste

  56. Speed says:

    Mark R. wrote, “The idea that we should create non-biodegradable “garbage” to have a quick drink or snack is bizarre.”

    Yes. Like glass and pottery.

    The problem is not with the plastic itself but what people do with it after use. Disposed of properly (re-cycled or landfill) plastic is not much of a problem. Disposed of the way it is in Patrick’s neighborhood is a problem. Not an insurmountable problem but a problem.

  57. Mark R. says:

    You probably have read about the thin film of iridium in the Earth’s crust left by the meteor 65 million years ago.

    After humans, the cockroach archeologists will stumble across the layer of plastic we are leaving and call our era the Plasticene.

    The idea that we should create non-biodegradable “garbage” to have a quick drink or snack is bizarre.

    Waste is a terrible thing to mind.

  58. Gene says:

    >Most of it is lightweight stuff that poses no real FOD hazard.<

    I once had to abort takeoff in a Mooney M 20 when I picked up a plastic bag on the pitot tube.

  59. Patrick Wright says:

    I lived for while in a small village in Germany. I was amazed at how early in the morning an old person would be out cleaning up not just their own front yard, but sweeping the actual street in front of their house as well. Not necessarily every day, but often enough you never saw any trash. And if they didn’t, well, the mayor would drop by and have a discussion with them about civic responsibility. I don’t think people have ever been that tidy in the US.

  60. Rod says:

    Even more awesome are the great, rotating gyres in the ocean, all now choked with plastic. For a real frisson of disgust, read Donovan Hohn’s “Moby Duck”.

    • Speed says:

      Rod wrote about the great, rotating gyres … all choked with plastic.

      Wikipedia says …

      The patch is not easily visible, because it consists of very small pieces that are almost invisible to the naked eye. Most of its contents are suspended beneath the surface of the ocean, and the relatively low density of the plastic debris is, according to one scientific study, 5.1 kilograms per square kilometer of ocean area (5.1 mg/m2).

      Cambridge and Somerville should be so dirty. Maybe they should do something like this from Dianna Parker of NOAA …

      <I"It's not a hopeless situation. Marine debris is absolutely a solvable problem because it comes from us humans and our everyday practices. We can take any number of steps to keep it from entering the ocean and that can happen at the highest level with governments and it can happen at the lowest level individuals and everyday choices.”

      We have met the enemy and it is us.

    • Patrick says:

      Yeah, I know all about the Pacific trash gyres. Another thing to feel good about!

  61. Speed says:

    Re: Trash on the ramp. Nobody worries about FOD anymore? Walking past a piece of trash without picking it up could result in engine damage.

    Re: Dirty neighborhood. Not all are as ugly as yours. The blame is with the people who live there, the people who pass through there and the people charged with sweeping up and collecting the litter. In many clean neighborhoods the people who live there keep it clean. Some of us actually sweep out the gutter.

    Re: Trash in the terminal. This is a tough problem with a simple but not necessarily inexpensive solution. Every hour or so a hundred or two hundred people pass out through the gate (after sitting around for an hour or so) and another hundred or two hundred people pass in through the gate as they run to the bathroom. I seldom see lots of trash receptacles (this is a big part of the problem in my experience) or lots of cleaners cleaning up — where I do, things are fairly clean.

    • Patrick says:

      Most of it is lightweight stuff that poses no real FOD hazard. But I find metal and other hardware sometimes. The other day I picked up a fork, plus two broken-off luggage wheels that were pretty heavy.

  62. Charlie says:

    You should all the trash that is left outside of truck stops and rest areas. It is a shame how some truckers are incapable of using a garbage can.

    • Art Knight says:

      Charlie says: You should all the trash that is left outside of truck stops and rest areas. It is a shame how some truckers are incapable of using a garbage can.

      I was a consultant and had readied a facility for an inspection. Janet from a company that makes things that rhyme with “billy bonka” came in and could not find anything wrong. Frustrated, at our loading dock, where the trucks pull in, she started digging through the trash can. She pulled out a plastic juice bottle filled with yellow liquid and glared at me. “What is this?” She asked. I replied “Janet, that is a trucker’s urinal.”

  63. Fry says:

    It’s pathetic. I hate to reduce this to something as banal as “who raised these people”, but I can’t imagine my parents tossing trash out a car window.

    People don’t seem to realize that it’s the accumulation of little things that make the difference, and doing the little things right really isn’t that hard.

  64. Ed says:

    Isn’t the litter floating around your airplane when you do a walkaround a FOD danger? Or not so much?