In Defence of Littering

Littler

waste is unveiling. As we find ourselves standing in garbage that we know is our own, we find also that it is garbage we have chosen to make, and having chosen to make it could choose not to make it.

James p. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games

To throw trash away is to hide a truth from ourselves. When we throw trash into designated bins, we cast a veil over our choices. We cannot throw trash away, because there is no “away.” There is only this world, our home. When a person hoards their waste, we look on in disgust. Their home slowly fills with trash until all life—any activity that could be considered living—is choked out. Why do we react differently to identical treatment of our shared home, the Earth?

Because we don’t see it. In most cases, we put it out of our sight, pushing it into someone else's back yard. If we had to face our waste, we would see the consequences of our choices and have to ask some uncomfortable questions. To avoid this, we veil our trash. We hide it, try to reconfigure it. But buried or burnt, waste doesn't disappear; it only changes form and moves around. It usually becomes the problem of peoples who are less powerful than those producing the waste. We choke the life out of their homes, often while they produce little themselves. We stay far enough away to keep their demands for change, like our garbage, out of sight and out of mind.

The only just solution is to not throw anything away. Trash should be dropped at the point of creation: wrappers deserted in the spot where they ceased protecting food stuff, packing peanuts left in the place where they finished their job, styrofoam cups set down empty after the last sip. Let’s hold on to everything that passes this point of transformation… until we begin to drown.

For we will surely drown if we don't cease, and we will not cease if we do not see that we are drowning.

The next time someone points to litter in disgust, ask them: if not there then where should the trash go?