Calling all block captains, a.k.a. “busy bodies.” You know who you are. You’re the person who cannot just walk past a piece of litter without gnawing guilt. You feel compelled to sort through people’s trash, salvaging the recyclables. “Sort & Separate” is your mantra. You give your god-child his first recycle bin at age two and make him a card-carrying registered voter for his 18th birthday. Plastic water bottles cause you to break out in hives and you refuse grocery bags with disdain. You are regarded as a scold. You know who you are—you are my peeps.
Being a block captain requires a sturdy soapbox and a tireless ability to pontificate. It involves getting up in yo business. Getting your hands dirty. Learning the art of diplomacy (resisting the urge to throttle and instead offering a baggie to the non-pooper scooper dog walker with an amiable “Sir, seems you have been caught off guard, may I offer you a bag for your dog?”). Being vigilant for illegal lead paint or asbestos removals (guaranteed to make you unpopular). And taking your self-appointed job on the road and out of the neighborhood. See a pothole, report it, and don’t assume anyone else has. And maybe it isn’t your storefront or street, but you can still pick up the litter.
Litter is contagious. Maybe you would never be tempted to add to that pile of debris at the bus stop; but when it comes to litter bugs and their cast offs, misery loves company. For many people, there appears to be a complete disconnect between the brain and the hand. That Big Mac wrapper or cigarette butt simply longs for the open range and the hand that sets it free. Free to clog our storm drains and ultimately travel into our water systems (an onward to the Gulf). Free to make our city look like an open landfill.
There have been many studies that point to The Broken Window theory. They show how disrespect for a space, a place, will create further abuse. One tagger will beget more graffiti. One illegal dumping of trash will soon lead to mounds and mounds of waste. Think of that vacant lot down the street, strewn with discards, as the weakling and the litter as the bully. A bully attracts more misfits like himself and soon the little guy is outnumbered. Step up and intervene. Pick up five pieces of litter a day and that alone equals 2,125 pieces of crap removed from that lot a year.
We create litter and marine debris every day. You and I may think of ourselves as incapable of littering, and yet every time we buy a plastic water bottle or accept a go-cup we are contributing to the death of over a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and countless fish annually (and these statistics are only for the North Pacific—the world-wide numbers are staggering). Ten percent of the world’s plastic will enter the oceans and contaminate every living ocean organism. Then, when we consume the seafood, the plastic comes full circle back to us (poetic justice).
Recycling is a tremendous help in circumventing dangerous litter, but be honest, do you recycle those beer-to-go cups, festival food Styrofoam plates, knives and forks? Do you really carry them home from Jazz Fest? No, who does? But we can take some of the edge off our waste load by making sure we use the recycle bins offered at the Fest. Carry your own fork from home and drink only canned beverages (beer, now this should be an easy choice). Also bring your own water bottle or Mardi Gras cup to fill from various tap water sources.
Water bottles! Jeez, when did we all start feeling the need to carry a plastic 12 ouncer everywhere we go? Drinking more water is great, good for you, but those recommended eight glasses of H2O a day could come from a real glass and filtered tap water. And yes, our tap water has its issues but don’t think bottled water is much better. For one thing BPA, a suspected carcinogen found in plastic, leaches into the bottled water. But mainly you are creating far more pollution and health issues down the road by contributing to this toxic waste. So take one for the team and turn on the faucet.
Being a block captain doesn’t have to make you the neighborhood nag or workplace whiner. Try welcoming new neighbors; decorating your porch for all occasions; sweeping out storm drains. You can simply be the person who motivates, who is proactive, who makes improvements. Simple things can go a long way. That coffee mug you take to CC’s each morning can save 365 disposable cups from the landfill annually (nothing is biodegradable once it is buried within a landfill). Cleaning your storm drain might, by example, cause your neighbor to do the same. On our side of the street, Gallivan and Judy tidy the cluster-f*** of garbage cans after every trash day and this prompted me to reorganize the ones across the street into a smaller grouping—its like herding cats, but now the street looks better.
Come on! You too can enjoy an exciting career as a Block Captain. Albeit an unpaid and often thankless job! As the old saying goes: “If you don’t vote you can’t complain.” Better yet, don’t complain, just do something, anything, to lessen a problem or highlight a positive. There’s a world of hurt out there and you can make a difference.
Now go and enjoy Jazz Fest but remember: you are a Block Captain and always on duty!