Monday, June 15, 2009

Litter Ninja

I have become something that all reasonable sane and aspiring-to-be-cool teenagers everywhere dread and despise - no, not a social studies teacher, a public litter collecter. Or is it picker-upperer? Socially-aware Scavenger? Trash Tracker?

.....Loser? Well, I prefer the term 'Litter Ninja'. Whatever the title, my mother is proud that her genes actually have started to make themselves known in my own mix of cells and synapses as she's been a regular power-walking litter-picking mini-skip at the picnic reserve near her house for many years.

Mum's habit finally awoke in me after too long trying to resolutely ignore the rubbish everywhere I went, saying 'I didn't do it, so I'm not taking care of it,' and pretending that the pathway leading into the kiddie's playground was lined with barkchips instead of cigarette butts and the twinkles in the hedges were fairy lights and not the ring-top pulls from beer cans.

Every single home we've owned - even after moving cities four different times - have always found us within walking distance of a McDonalds. Under-utilised Physics undergrads could be invited to determine the factors that influence the distance from a take-away establishment and the time taken to eat the food whilst walking drunkenly home and dumping the bag, wrappers and soft drink bucket-with-lid directly in front of our gate.

In Adelaide we only had the local Maccas to deal with but being sandwiched here in Melbourne with Red Rooster and Pizza Hut on Mt Alexander Road and Subway, KFC and the Golden Arches on Racecourse Road, our little street resembles the inner-city equivalent of a waving field of Edelweiss if cruelly replaced by half-squished sauce packets, straws and paper napkins. Throw in at least two kidnapped trolleys from Safeway, abandoned sofa cushions wet by rain and beer cans dumped by late night punters walking back to the drying out centre and you'll get some idea of the lovely urban ambience we've been enjoying in our little corner of the world.

It was high time to take a stand, be a member of my community and take some pride in my surroundings. Unlike my mother, my de-littering occurs under the cover of darkness (oh OK close to tea time because it's dark by 6pm) or on the weekends when the school yard is deserted.

Sometimes Sapphire - who at ten is beyond her teens in terms of insight but is still mostly willing to hang around with her mum - will accompany me, but usually it's just Milly the dog; in mad passionate love with anyone holding her lead and saying 'Wanna go for a walk?'

Cold Sunday afternoons/evenings just before tea sees Sapph zooming around the bitumen triangle on her scooter or trying her hardest to throw an adult-sized basketball through the adult-sized basket at our local high school. Milly gleefully trots around sniffing the bushes, finding ancient sandwiches wedged into the gaps of the plank seats or rolling in the sticky patches left from crushed Red Bull cans lingering only two metres away from empty rubbish bins.

Another father arrives with his young sons and he throws a basketball to them and involves Sapphire in their game. The 'dong-dong-dong' sound of duelling basketballs reassures me that she's happy and I can continue my embarassing quest for cleanliness.

I'm a pitiable sight - bent over like an old crone with a plastic shopping bag in one hand and an old pair of BBQ tongs in the other with my snot green eyes focussed solely on the ground, quadrangle, indigenous garden and canteen queue-space for anything like chewie wrappers, fruit boxes, clear plastic straw covers, egg sandwiches, styrofoam coffee cups, coke bottles, chip bags and meusli bars half-eaten and rejected for Mars Bars.....

....and sneakily-squashed cigarette butts, broken lighters, socks, ripped-up assignments, Chinese take-away containers, alfoil balls, clingwrap strands, shoelaces, condom wrappers* and mandarin peels.

An hour later, my work is done. During that time, a group of bored teens walk past, with one who looks like a chubby Zac Efron calling out, "Hey you missed a can over there," as the others snigger; Milly takes offence at the friendly overtures made by a Spaniel puppy ("Sorry about that, she loves people but considers her fellow species as slobbering evil incarnate"); get hit in the back of the scone by one of Sapphire's stray basketball shots and, for some reason, a bloke in a commodore yells out, "GET A JOB" as he's idling at the Mt Alexander Road traffic lights.

As I clip Milly's lead back on and signal to Sapph that it's time to leave, the father smiles and says, "It's a nice thing you're doing."

My back cracks as I stand up and accept the compliment gratefully. "Thanks. Well, it's our neighbourhood and it's going to be the high school that our kids will end up at isn't it?"

"Oh no," he shoots back instantly, pursing his lips in distaste. "No way." He turns his back towards his children and their game again, instantly dismissing me. I guess they'll have paid ground staff to do this kind of dirty work at the college he'll be sending his kids to.

* I suspect that even in these groovy times, most teens use condoms to inflate like obscene party balloons at school than the slightly-more-fun and adult purpose they were originally intended for.


Cat J B said...

Get a job?? Sheesh, what's with that?
We have this gadget we call 'The Claw', that would work perfectly for your noble venture, no bending required.

I like to imagine the day when fastfood places as mentioned have a byo food and bev container option, take em back home afterwards.....yep, dreams are free...

Kath Lockett said...

The Claw, eh? The sad thing is, I'll probably end up asking for one as my birthday present! :)

deepkickgirl said...

Good on you my friend. I am horrified by the amount of rubbish I see everywhere. I often pick up the odd bit of rubbish I see floating around Will's school.

Whenever I take a walk around our beautiful waterfront area near home I scold myself for forgetting to bring a bag to collect the rubbish I always see. It makes my blood boil that people are so lazy and stupid and disrespectful of the space they live in. I wish it was just kids but I know the majority of it is adults who should know much better. Sheesh!

Baino said...

Good for you. Is it me or since the 7o's Keep Australia Tidy campaign, we're actually being more careless with rubbish. Macdonalds are supposed to clean up something like 500metres around their establishments but rarely do!

franzy said...

I think I remember writing either a blog or a diary entry from Bribie Island which proclaimed that anyone who had ever eaten at Red Rooster was nothing more than shit. I wrote this shortly after returning from a fishing trip at the secluded south end of the island. I walked through rain forest and jungle for ten minutes and up the beach for a further ten and the only sign of humanity, apart from my footprints, were fucking Red Rooter wrappers.
Dirt. Human dirt. The lot of them.

Jack42 said...

You know, it's interesting but I've always thought this litter issue was a "Tragedy of the Commons" type of thing. However I've been riding the bus into work each day and I can see into people's cars from the bus (what-- I've got nothing better to do in the bus) and they are sometimes FILLED with junk.

JahTeh said...

My nephew considers his car as a mobile money box with the floor littered with coins.

Kath, get a claw. I have three because it was never in the room where I needed it. Brilliant for picking up rubbish or holding a plastic bag to the ceiling for the spiders to fall into which the claw then throws out the door.

Kath Lockett said...

I know, Deep Kick Girl, I know - I still can't understand how people can just 'drop' rubbish and then walk away, not caring - especially if it's in a place they like coming to again and again.

Maccas used to send their lowliest worker around the block from their establishment when I was living in Adelaide but it was futile because an eaten Big Mac, fries and coke isn't completed until they've walked another three blocks and *then* it's dumped.

Well said Franzy - how's the thumb? I remember climbing Uluru/Ayers Rock back in 1985 (when it was still allowed) and finding a cigarette butt and a coke can at the very top. Charming stuff.

You're right Jack42 - I reckon some lardarses go through the drive-thru, inhale their takeaways and then sling the wrappers over their shoulders. Must be one hell of an aroma when the sun shines through the glass!

I will Jah Teh, I will....

Anonymous said...

I hate litter. I despise cigarette butts. Hats off to you for a valiant effort. You should be proud. Most people are too lazy to pick up anything or throw it away properly. I find myself picking up trash when I'm out walking or at the park, etc.
My memory goes back to the US litter commercial years ago of the crying indian. How many remember seeing that commercial?

ashleigh said...

You should see some of the cars in the car park at work. How anybody actually fits in TO DRIVE is something of a mystery. How anybody can live in that kind of pigsty is also a mystery.

And... you are taking the work away from the chaps with community service orders. All those guys who get non-custodial prison sentences... forty-seven hours of community service and all that... well a vast number of them end up walking around the schools, and down the roads picking up litter.

So next time you see a van, and a bunch of guys in fluoro vests walking down the road with rubbish bags, you can slow down and shout "WADDIJA DO???? LUCKY YER NOT IN THE CLINK!!"

Miles McClagan said...

(Thanks now I have images of the classic 90s ad for Clean Up Australia day where Bruce Samazan sang Yucky Poo in my mind...)

No, good work

(Damn it, it won't get out!)

Helen said...

I tink it's awesome that you do that! I try to pick up litter but I gneerally don't have a bag, or I just don't notice. And while Im ahppy enough to pick up cans and things, there's very litle that would make me pick up used tissues, condoms (used for any purpose)or cigarette butts. If I'm in a reserve or somehwere lke that I'll always pick up litter, but scarily enough in the city, you just stop seeing it!

Maybe I'll make a plan and start cleaning up a bit more now!

Kath Lockett said...

mov4me - I'm an Aussie, so don't have any memories about crying Indians. I do remember, however, painting the huge red letter 'A' in our primary school KESAB campaign - Keep South Ausralia Beautiful. The 'A' sure was....

Ashleigh if I saw the community service felons I'd shake their hands and offer them a choccie or three! Apart from students and the gentle wafting of rubbish it's an urban no-go zone in my little/littered street.

Miles - Bruce Samazan - where is HE now?

Helen, rest assured that the condom boxes or wrappers are all I've ever seen - anything, ahem, used would be buried or studiously ignored.

drb said...

The little niinja has mtrike our fridge too!
Thanks! :-)

Thought it was Rob and he thought it was me until last night that he mentioned it was such a good job I had done.

River said...

You're doing a great job Kath, and I agree a claw would be an asset. Or one of those ski pole things with the spike on the end.
I used to pick up the papers and rubbish that blew right down our driveway, people would take the junk mail out of their mailbox and just dump it on the ground where the wind would catch it. Really, how hard is it to take the stuff inside along with your mail, then dump it in your own recycle bin!! Anyway, when a couple of the units got new tenants, they would leave piles of rubbish in their carports as well, the wind would blow it all over and they didn't seem to care. Now I only pick up the stuff that makes it as far as my yard. Then there's the stuff people leave on the checkout. Mostly tissues, erk! In the bin and sanitise my hands.

Benjamin Solah said...

You would've been so proud of me in sixth grade.

We had a mock parliament at school, and I turned out to be a bit of a Greenie (funny that) and was sitting in the Independents section.

I was responsible for trying to implement compost bins at the school and a can collection where I organised for the whole school to bring in their old cans and we'd take it to the deposit place. I earned the school like $80 and was a major teacher's pet ;P

Sandi K said...

I have an award for you at my blog: Swing by when you can to pick it up!