discomfort (2006-38)

It’s Trash and So are You

Making the world an uglier place, one butt at a time

by Steve Dupree

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to drive across the country for the first time. A friend who had been a long-haul trucker planned the route and came with me. It enabled me to see up close a lot of the sites that I had read about over the years and had seen from an airplane. We went west on I-40 to Kingman, Ariz. There we headed northwest across the Hoover Dam and up through Nevada. We went through Lake Tahoe and on into Sacramento, the destination of the trip.

After my brother’s wedding, the reason for the journey, we continued west to San Francisco and then south on the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles. Then it was east on I-20 to New Orleans and north to home. I saw things beautiful, grand, majestic, wondrous and incredible. I also saw something that amazed and appalled me.

Whenever we would stop to take in a vista or a scenic view of Lake Tahoe, or to marvel at huge numbers of seals on a Pacific beach or the testament to human engineering that is the Hoover Dam, we were simultaneously amazed and aghast—all those places and others, no matter how beautiful or seemingly pure, all were absolutely littered with cigarette butts.

My mind would run through the scenarios that would lead to such litter. I would try to imagine the type of person who, when pausing to take particular note of some of God’s (however you choose to perceive Her) more impressive handiwork, would then casually make sure that the next person’s experience was just a little less majestic by thoughtlessly flicking a cigarette butt into a place to be shared with everyone who follows. 

When I was but a lad, it was common to hear the derogatory phrase “white trash” applied to those who were white and callous about the shared environment. In later years, I have frequently heard the phrase with the “white” left off so as to allow for inclusion of those of any race who act without regard for other members of their society. The spirit behind the term appears to have remained, and it seems especially appropriate for the situation that I still have occasion to note. People who would speak very derogatorily of a litterer who throws a McDonalds bag out of a car think nothing of tossing a cigarette filter onto other people’s property or onto common property. Guess what? It’s trash, and so are you.

I used to have people over to my house fairly frequently back when I was making my own beer. I never allowed smoking in the house, so all the smokers would take to the porch. After a several events, I was out mowing the lawn and noticed the strong smell of stale cigarettes. There appeared to be hundreds of butts lying in the yard. I started putting buckets of sand on the porch and requesting that my visitors who smoked use the buckets rather than the yard for the detritus of their habit. Yes, it was that noticeable. Over the exhaust of the gas-powered mower and the smell of fresh cut grass, the stale butt smell was clear and offensive.

To be completely honest here, I have to admit that I was a smoker for several years. I quit 21 years ago. I suspect that former smokers are more sensitive to cigarette smoke/smell than even lifelong non-smokers. I am sure that in my travels about the world as a youngster in the Navy, I was responsible for flipping hundreds of butts in several different countries. I apologize. I also think that it is possible for us to learn individually and as a group, and I sincerely hope that not everyone feels obligated to make every mistake that I have made. (If you feel you must remake my mistakes, I should warn you that there will be a lot of pain and no small amount of expense involved. Not to mention near-fatal levels of embarrassment.) So yeah, I was trash, too. 

The great thing is that you can get better. You can make it so that that term simply doesn’t apply to you. 

You don’t have to be trash—it is a decision you can make every time you light up outside your home. My suggestion is that you do what’s called “field stripping” your butt. The paper and the tobacco will dissipate fairly rapidly, but the filter will not. I have no problem with you leaving paper and tobacco, and placing the filter in your purse or pocket for disposal at a more appropriate time and place. Another thought I had was to institute a five-cent deposit on every filter. It would cost you nothing if you brought back one for every one you purchase, but if you insist on littering, you would have to pay the cost of cleaning it up, which seems pretty fair to me.

We do not have to ruin things for those who follow us. We do not have to be trash, but if you insist on littering, don’t be surprised or offended when someone calls you what you are.