Take time to curb trash habit

Kai Hagen

May 2, 2003

"It's just a gum wrapper," I said.

I can't remember how old I was at the time. Sixth grade, perhaps? But I've never forgotten the rest of the details.

Walking down the sidewalk with a friend, I took out stick of gum , unwrapped it, and...without thinking about it...casually tossed the wrapper on the ground.

My friend stopped dead in his tracks, and, to my surprise, he was surprised. Stunned, really, and a bit sad. I know, because he said so. He said some other things, too. He asked me why I didn't put it in my pocket and throw it out later. He asked me to think about what it would be like if everyone threw their trash on the ground. Also...and this had the biggest impact at the time...he said he would pick it up if I didn't.

I did pick it up. And I haven't tossed another wrapper on the ground since then.

I can't tell you why I thought it was okay to toss the wrapper on the ground. I don't remember making a habit of it. It wasn't because my parents were "litterbugs." They weren't. I'm sure my mother had said something about it more than a few times. No doubt, I understood enough to know it would not be okay to litter in front or my parents, or other adults.

It was just a gum wrapper, after all.

But I feel that I grew up a little that day.

Unfortunately, some people never grow up.

The evidence is out there, on city streets and sidewalks, in parks and parking lots, along our rural roads and highways. Apparently, more than a few people in the county, as elsewhere, don't think twice about taking the last sip of soda pop and throwing the can or bottle out of their car window. Too many people finish their fast food and fling the bag full of trash wherever they happen to be.

Why don't they throw it out later?. What would it be like if everyone threw their trash on the ground?

It's just a gum wrapper, or a bottle or can, or a magazine or newspaper, or whatever. Right? No big deal.

Wrong. And, it would seem like a big deal to more of us if not for all the people who pick up after those too selfish to care - too selfish to do the right thing. Without the efforts of people we pay to clean up after them, as well as a lot of other folks who volunteer their time and energy, it wouldn't take very long before trash, well...littered every foot of most sidewalks and roadsides in Frederick County.

According to Sam Castleman of The Thorpe Foundation, one of the organizations participating in volunteer clean-up efforts, "The daily accumulation along the roads includes a great many fast food restaurant items, many styrofoam cups and other carry out containers, lots of soft drink plastic bottles, and beer, beer and more beer bottles and cans."

Unfortunately, litter isn't just about the accumulation of small items tossed out by thoughtless and lazy people. For most of us, "spring cleaning" means cleaning things inside and out, and neatly leaving trash and recycling for pick-up, or hauling it somewhere ourselves. But, for some of our neighbors, spring cleaning means loading up a pick-up truck and finding an out of the way place along a country road to dump it in the woods, as often as not near or right into a stream.

There are hundreds of illegal "dumpsites" throughout the county, including more than a few in the forested watersheds above our drinking water. Mr. Castleman described dump sites full of "old cans and jars, including milk jugs, oil jars, wine bottles and whiskey pints. There are light bulbs, shoes, a variety of helmets and hats, tons of tires, whole toilets, refrigerators, stoves, hot water tanks, oil tanks, car parts, carpets, tile flooring, lots of children’s toys, and on and on. There are also mattresses and box springs. And deer carcasses and bags of animal parts from hunting."

You just have to wonder what some people are thinking.

Even as I wish it was not necessary, I'd like to extend my appreciation and gratitude to the individuals and organizations that help keep Frederick County clean and beautiful.

If you or your organization would like to help out once a year or a few times a year, there are a couple of programs that provide support.

You've probably noticed signs along some stretches of county roads that have been "adopted" by groups of volunteers. The Frederick County "Adopt-A-Road" program supports the efforts of civic groups, churches, home owners associations and local residents that have adopted specific county roads for quarterly litter pick up. Each group usually picks up hundreds of pounds of litter, and the county collects the bags and delivers them to the landfill. To get involved with Adopt-A-Road, contact project manager Donald Crum at 301-694-1565 or send e-mail to (The number to report a litter problem is 301-694-1564.)

There is also the "Big Sweep" program, an annual spring clean up which makes it possible for participating non-profit organizations to turn trash into cash. Participants collect sponsorships from family, friends, and colleagues. This year, almost seventeen tons of litter was collected along with more than two tons of recyclable items. Volunteer teams collected on 29 different roads. If your 501(c)3 organization would like to participate, call Volunteer Frederick at (301) 663-5214 or send e-mail to

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at