Hump Day: Attitudes on littering have been transformed — for some

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

With all the talk about garbage sorting lately, we need to remember how far we’ve come in the past few decades. While there remains a lot of confusion about what garbage goes in which bag in Greater Moncton’s blue-green bag system, I’ll take that any day over the days of yore.

There used to be a dump on the banks of the Petitcodiac River. Yup a dump. Actually, it’s still there, just buried. I have clear memories as a kid driving in the car and seeing that mountain of garbage piled high and surrounded by seagulls.

I know it’s hard to believe for those of you who either moved to Moncton after it was remediated or were born later, but the thought of an open dump on the banks of the river these days is just unimaginable. With the opening of the Causeway gates, renewed pride in an ever-rejuvenating Petitcodiac River and more sophisticated environmental sensitivities, we just wouldn’t do that in this day and age. We’ve come a long way.

When I was a kid, it was nothing for us to litter. Until widespread do-not-litter campaigns came along in the 1970s, we thought nothing of just throwing stuff on the ground. On Sunday drives, we’d just throw garbage out the window — candy wrappers, napkins, etc. Well-used overflowing car ashtrays would just be emptied in parking lots without a second thought. How many times did I see one of my parents crank open that little triangular window (remember those?) on one of the front doors and stuff something through it, only to see it blow away as we sped down the highway?

Of course, just the thought of doing that today makes me cringe. And my mother now regularly picks up garbage alongside the roadside on her daily walk to take back home and discard properly. I’ve talked about this to her before and neither one of us would even think of doing the sorts of things we all did with garbage 40 years ago.

I often wonder why we even thought it was OK to do so? Perhaps an apple core thrown out the window wasn’t the end of the world. After all, it would just compost back into nature or be eaten by insects of some other animal, but we used to throw out way more than apple cores. Again, it just boggles the mind.

These days, people are so much more conscientious about the environment and our planet’s well being. Despite that, though, there are still those who don’t think twice about throwing garbage out their car windows. While my mother never fails to find garbage to pick up during her walks in the countryside where she lives, I often see drivers throw out their still-burning cigarettes from their car windows onto the pavement. Don’t they have a bloody ashtray in their car? I mean, come on!

Living across from a park also gives me a first-hand view of the littering that people do. There are garbage cans in the park, but some people just can’t seem to be bothered to use them. I find myself picking up garbage all the time whenever I take my dog for her daily stroll through the park. Broken hockey sticks from the kids playing ball hockey. Empty beverage containers, mostly nonalcoholic, but some alcoholic. Candy and food wrappers. You name it, I’ve found it. So far, no needles, though.

I guess I shouldn’t be terribly surprised at the things “some people’s children” do. Over the weekend, I was working in my office and heard a couple of car doors close outside followed by squealing tires. This isn’t a normal thing in my normally quiet neighbourhood, so I got up and took a look outside. It was the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight. I couldn’t imagine what that was all about.

I saw five teenage males in the park walking around all tough-like. They weren’t doing anything bad (at least right then), just swaggering around trying to look cool. All of a sudden, I saw four of them stand in a semicircle, hold their hands in front of themselves and look down. Were they praying, I wondered? Were we being invaded by a teenage gang version of the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Come to figure out that they were urinating in unison. What in the world would possess these kids to do that? I understand that if you have to go, you have to go. But all four at once practically watching each other ‘go’? What an odd thing to do in public in the middle of the day, in front of your friends.

I mentioned it online and someone mentioned that perhaps it was a gang initiation. I had to chuckle. If you join a gang in the U.S., you have to prove yourself by killing someone. Here in Canada, you prove yourself by peeing in front of your buddies. I guess shy bladders are really frowned upon in Canada’s gangland underworld, eh?

Some online friends mentioned that I should have called the police. Well, by the time they would have shown up, the Pee Posse Gang would have been long gone, the only evidence being wet grass. What could the police have done anyway? Smelled the wet grass to see who’d just eaten asparagus? “All units: be on the lookout for a kid walking around Lewisville who acts tough, has asparagus caught in his teeth and enjoys watching his friends pee. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Over.”

Yeah, times sure have changed.

I would never dream of littering in this day and age. And I would certainly not consider using the bathroom in front of a bunch of people. I remember the old outhouse at my grandmother’s place in Prince Edward Island had two holes for multiple users. I asked my mother why once. “Well, so two people could go at once.” I was horrified, but maybe those kids in the park would have been right at home.

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