The Trash Trend

To be filed under: “We must be the change we wish to see” Gandhi
I’ve always wondered how trends start, who instigates them and how they spread. A few years ago I read “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” by Malcolm Gladwell, but don’t remember much hands-on ‘how to’ advice. I’m the last person to set a fashion trend and I’m afraid I’m not going to start any kind of visionary or intellectual trend either.
But now, inadvertently I might have started a trend after all – it might be wishful thinking, but here it goes: let me call it the Trash Trend. Very sexy, I know.
Sunday I got back from a quick bike ride in Central Park and as I pulled up to my condo I noticed a few big ticket trash items strewn around our entrance. As I did at my old home which was a brownstone without a super in attendance I started picking up the trash and walked it over to the trash bin at the curb and since I was at it I picked up a few more items there. The result was much easier on the eye. I went home, took a shower never thought of it gain.
Two days later I get an email through our building’s Google group: a forward of a guy who had posted on http://www.everyblock.com/ an exact description of what I had done and how great it was and he had never seen anybody but himself pick up trash off the side walk in Harlem. I was flabbergasted that anybody would have noticed, let alone write about it. What ensued was an on-line conversation about the merits of picking up after others. And our discussion got quite a few “thanks” – that’s akin to the FB “like”.
Here’s my take on it. I firmly believe in the broken windows theory. Quote: “The broken windows theory was first introduced by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, in an article titled “Broken Windows” in the March 1982 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. The title comes from the following example: Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.”
Littering is a one of my (many) pet peeves (can you tell I’m Swiss?). I have asked strangers in my neighborhood over and over again to pick up their trash when I see them litter. The guy who commented on my action noted in the email exchange that he was taking to a friend, walking down 116th Street, commenting on the trash, when he got a nasty stare from a person walking in front of them. And I must add that 116th street between Freddie and Adam C Powell is notoriously “trashy”. I think there’s a big difference between ‘commenting’, sic: criticizing and doing.
I have never had anybody give me hard time for picking up trash on the street. Mostly I get thank you’s and the occasional stare of disbelieve. And most of the people I ask to pick up their trash do so and apologize. And the cool thing about getting older is that kids actually listen and pick up after themselves when I tell them to.
Now: every now and then there’s a person who will litter in front of a house to spite the occupants. So be it. I’ll gladly keep picking up their trash too and take the high road and if I catch them I will (politely) tell them to use a trash bin. Littering is a lack of education and respect for oneself and others.
I come from a culture where littering is a major no-no. Every kid, every tourist, every person who has ever littered in Switzerland will know what a swift and forceful reaction they get from total strangers and will think twice the next time. Policing a strict no-litter policy citizen driven and self-regulatory, no intervention by authorities needed. I think it’s a matter of respect for oneself and ones surroundings; a matter of self-esteem and taking pride in one’s street, block or neighborhood.
Somewhere in a New York City park I saw a sign that read something like: don’t litter, use the trash receptacles: they’re free and easy to use. Are you with me?