Betsy Blakeslee: Litter party

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— Twice a year, we have a cleanup party along U.S. Highway 40 in front of Carpenter Ranch. Our goal is to collect trash along The Nature Conservancy's adopted mile of highway.

During late fall, the grasses die back, exposing an unsightly collection of litter along the side of the road. This November, with weather in the 50s, a stellar group of volunteers showed up at the party. These are people who really know how to have a good time.

In 2 12 hours, we picked up 49 trash bags full of you-tell-me. It was everything you can think of that could blow out of a pickup, plus waves of plastic, aluminum and Styrofoam containers deliberately thrown into the mix.

Shocked by the amount of litter, I decided to look up some statistics, which I'll share.

- Highway litter is composed of 59 percent paper, 16 percent cans, 6 percent bottles, 6 percent plastics and 13 percent miscellaneous.

- The items most found during litter cleanups are fast-food wrappers. No. 2 on the list are aluminum beer cans, followed closely by soda cans.

- Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world, and there is even a Web site, www.cigarettelitter.org, that can tell you more about that.

Our group made some observations that may not be statistics but say a thing or two about our local litterers.

- Marlboro cigarettes clearly are the sticks of choice, which goes to show that the Wild West can be successfully marketed, at a cost.

- Budweiser truly is the king of beers. There's Budweiser and then there's everything else. Small glass hard liquor containers also are very popular with drivers.

- CDOT, which promotes and sponsors the Adopt-a-Highway program, gives out a video that talks about what to do if you find drug kits, meth lab paraphernalia, or contaminants. Yes, we did find a drug kit, but only one in one mile.

- Fast-food containers blow out of pickups, whether they are "to-go" coffee containers from Starbucks or McDonalds.

Maybe it's time to go back to the three "R's" ... Reduce, Recycle and Reuse. Thanks to recycling centers, the infrastructure is in place to buy convenient throw-away containers, use the contents, recycle the packaging, and buy it again when it morphs into a new purchasable recyclable package. And thanks to the promotion of Tupperware, Nalgene water bottles and canvas bags, the awareness is in place to cut down on the packaging. Maybe we need to add a fourth "R"... Resist.

For now, Adopt-a-Highway programs and stellar volunteers are helping us keep the country roads clean. Hopefully in the future we'll go easier on the consumption of throwaway packaging, and we'll be sure to strap it down on the way to the recycling center. It would be nice not to have to party so hardy.

Blakeslee is the Carpenter Ranch's outreach manager.

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