By Col. Deborah B. GraysMarch 11, 2010
What do you do when you see a fast food wrapper on the ground'
Do you pick it up to throw it away, or do you walk by' After all, we pay people to pick up litter, right' Wrong!
I spend a lot of time touring the grounds of our installations, whether I'm running to stay fit or travelling to and from various events. Lately, I've been disappointed not only at the amount of litter, but at the general apathy I've found for employees and visitors to the installation to pick it up.
While it's true we once had a contract with a company to provide litter pickup at Fort Gillem three days a week and at Fort McPherson twice a week, that contract no longer exists. Over the past several months, we've had to take a hard look at our expenditures and find ways to save money. I made the decision at the end of January to discontinue litter pickup. The cut is saving the garrison $75,857.04 per year, or $6,321.42 per month.
Although litter pickup has been removed as a contracted service, it's still very important for many reasons. Not only does litter detract from the appearance of our installations, it also has serious environmental affects. It is a breeding ground for disease-causing insects and rodents. Food litter attracts mice and rats, and open containers can hold rainwater, providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus.
Litter ends up in our streams and storm water drainage systems. Cigarette butts and filters have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds and other animals who have mistaken them for food. And litter can take an extremely long time to decompose. According to Green Living Tips, a wool sock can take one to five years to decompose, a disposable diaper can take 450 years, aluminum cans may take up to 200 years and a glass bottle can take a million years.
Asking you not to throw your trash on the ground goes without saying ... as responsible adults, we should all know better. But I understand that much of our litter is accidental. You open your car door in a parking lot and a bottle of water or a sheet of paper falls out and ends up under your car. Do you leave it or make the effort to reach under the car (or move the car, if necessary) to claim the item and either return it to your car or throw it away'
Much of the trash I find on our installations comes from overflowing trash or recycling bins. When bins are overflowing and lids aren't closed, wind, water and traffic can blow trash from these containers over great distances. In fact, litter keeps moving until it is trapped by a curb, fence, tree, building or other stationary object. I've talked to representatives of many organizations that I've found to have overflowing bins and changes are being made, but you have responsibilities here, too. If you add trash or recyclable items to a bin, ensure the items are secure. Take a moment to add any items lying outside of the bin, then close the lid so no other items can blow out.
Many outside organizations have done research into why people litter. The overwhelming results are threefold: litterers feel someone else will clean up after them, they tend to litter where litter has already accumulated and they feel no ownership for the property where they litter. I've already told you there is no one paid to pick up litter, and the only way to stop litter accumulation is to pick up after ourselves and each other.
So let me address the last reason stated. We each own Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem. The reasoning can be as basic as the fact that we're all taxpayers; therefore we each personally pay for our federal property and share ownership. But more than that is the fact that we live and work here. Those of you who do not live on post may spend more of your waking hours here than you do at home, making the installations as much yours as your own residence. Others come here for services and to shop. Just as we are responsible for ensuring you receive the highest quality services available, you're responsible for helping us keep the property clear of trash. Everyone shares the responsibility for controlling litter.
Littering is not only a moral and environmental issue; it's a legal issue, too. Littering on Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem is prohibited by Fort McPherson Regulation 210-5 (Installation Regulation, Policy, and Procedures). The policy is punitive to individuals who are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And it's not only illegal on post - anyone caught littering in Georgia can be fined between $100 and $1,000.
We're a mobile society that spends a lot of time walking outside, whether to our next appointment or to our car. Through our everyday activities, we cover a lot of ground, literally. If each of us takes the time and makes the effort, every time we step outside, to look for trash, pick it up and properly dispose of it, litter will not be an issue.