Three rules for litterbugs

Michael Johansen
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The sun shone warm through broad leaves onto a forest trail. I was maybe seven years old, trundling down the path ahead of my mother.

I spotted something bright and colourful on the ground. I didn’t know what it was so I did what I almost always do: I picked it up to get a closer look.

“Oh no, you don’t!” my mother said — or words to that effect.

It was only a candy wrapper, so I lost interest immediately. I don’t recall if I was about to just drop it, but my mother’s voice startled me and I let go of the piece of trash as if it had suddenly bit me.

“Oh no, you don’t!” my mother scolded again — or something along those lines.

My mother taught me three rules that day — rules which, I hasten to add, I have somewhat elaborated on over the years.

One: don’t throw trash on the ground. It’s your garbage, so you should keep it until you find a proper garbage can.

People who litter are litterbugs and litterbugs are pigs — with apologies to real pigs who actually never waste anything.

Two: don’t pick up other people’s garbage from the ground. It’s dirty and it could somehow make you sick, or do you some kind of injury.

Three: if you ignore the second rule and pick up the litter anyway, then it becomes your responsibility. You can’t throw it away again until you come to one of the aforementioned garbage bins.

Personally I’ve never had any trouble observing rules one and three, but I’ve hardly ever been able to give rule two even a passing glance.

I’ve always been fascinated (and often disgusted) by what people throw away and if I’m not picking it up because I want to see what it is, I’m doing it because the sight of garbage on the ground offends me and I figure someone’s got to clean it up.

The topic of other people’s litter hasn’t come up between my mother and me lately, but I’m willing to wager she was always a little lax on Rule No. 2 as well. She probably just enacted it to stop an overly inquisitive boy from Hoovering up every scrap of garbage in the woods and I doubt she’d try to enforce it these days.

Unfortunately, Rule No. 2 has to be disregarded because too many people still ignore Rule No. 1 — here and everywhere. As the last of the deep winter snow melts away, a whole season’s crop of trash has been revealed to the sky. Streets, roads, paths and trails throughout Labrador are festooned with cardboard boxes, empty oil bottles, beer bottles, pop and water bottles, cans of all kinds, plastic bags, paper

bags, cigarette butts, empty cigarette packs, food wrappers (fast and slow) and even a selection of heavily soiled diapers. (No one should imagine that my mother’s concern over germs was in any way baseless.)

So, with so many around who break my mother’s first rule and treat the whole world like a garbage dump, it’s good there’s a lot of other people — like, notably, the folks at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation — who prefer to ignore Rule No. 2 instead. The crew at CBC Radio’s “Labrador Morning” have brought the corporation’s 15-Minute Community Cleanup campaign to the region and the results have already been good, with public grounds like docks, beaches, hospitals, parks, parking lots and roads in St. Lewis, Sheshatshiu, Happy Valley-Goose Bay and more places to come being relieved of their accumulated trash.

One could be tempted to use this admirable CBC campaign politically, as a way to argue about how a public broadcaster can serve the common good in ways that private broadcasters might never contemplate, but it could then also be turned into a bitter joke.

The campaign could pointedly be called a demonstration of how the CBC is retraining its staff in preparation for the corporation’s eventual demise at the hands of the current federal government.

In any case, all jokes aside, the cleanup campaign is a good one and the CBC should be thanked for helping make a host of littered places look a whole lot better.


Michael Johansen is a writer

living in Labrador.



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Recent comments

  • Debbie
    May 26, 2012 - 11:14

    You have a good mother Michael:)

    • Elle
      June 03, 2012 - 00:04

      You were brought up the good way, Michael and not many kids are these days; we are a dying breed. I pick up rubbish when I see it, because it is indeed unsightly; and soiled diapers? That is disgraceful!