A simple way to reduce litter

One Sunday morning, I walked the dogs up the bike path to the local Starbucks. After coffee, we crossed this street and saw this cup full of water sitting in the pavement. I was baffled. Why there? I ran through some scenarios - the most likely seemed to be that a driver opened the door and set the cup down on the pavement, shut the door, and drove off. But what was going through their mind? "If I put this cup out here, I'll be rid of it." But, where did they think the cup would go? Now, the cup (which has been repurposed as litter) will be someone else's problem. If no one else takes responsibility for this cup/litter, it will either blow around the street or eventually float down the drain into the nearby creek. To somewhat avoid becoming disappointed at how selfish and unempathetic people are, I picked up the cup, emptied it, and took it home where I put it in the recycle bin. It's life of litter was over.

A shopper at the Target store In Edmond OK is constantly greeted with excess litter (and uncaring employees).

Time required for litter to break down
1-5 months: Cotton rags
2-5 months: Paper
6 months: Orange peels
80-100 years: Aluminum cans
Forever: Glass bottles, Cigarette butts, Nylon fabric, Plastic bottles, Plastic 6-pack rings

There's a lot of trash everywhere - even when there is a trash can within easy walking distance. In the summers of 1967-1970, I worked at Six Flags over Texas (I had a blast). We were trained as employees to pick up trash on the grounds of the park and parking lot. We were not to step over or by a piece of trash - we were to bend down and pick it up. I saw the payoff - the grounds were usually spotless and the aesthetics of a litter-free park impressed upon me the value of an environment with very little trash around. I worked there for 4 summers and that behavior became a habit for me. I continued it even when I wasn't in the park working. I still do it today. Although, when there's a lot of litter - like in these photos shot in Oklahoma - I am overwhelmed and often, don't pick up any of it.
The Six Flags policy and training was likely inspired by Walt Disney at Disneyland:

Causes of litter
1. Lack of trash cans or trash cans not emptied often enough.
2. Parents who taught kids to never pick up anything off the ground.
3. The attitude ' the problem is so massive, what can I do about it?

'JustOnePiece: A campaign for less litter
When I am in New York, I often stoop down and pick up trash and put it in the next trash can (granted there are less trash cans around now since some people have become more paranoid that a terrorist will put a bomb in one) but there are still enough around. I have even picked up cigarette butts that people just threw down and I look at them and simply say, "I'll throw that away for you." They are often dumbfounded and apologetic. I sometimes mention that I love New York and I hate litter. I avoid passing judgment or making a scene, I just pick up the butt and toss it in a trash can, all in plain sight of the offender. I hope it makes them think the next time. I pick up trash partly to make the city look better, partly to set an example and show how easy it is, and partly to stupefy the natives. Imagine how great the city would look if every one of 8 million people picked up just one piece of litter each day. That copy line stuck in my head and I started to sketch out a graphic for a teeshirt.

Milton Glaser, a founder of the trend-setting PushPin Studios in the 1950s, designed the original 'I heart New York' mark in 1977. It is now a classic icon in New York City. It clearly identifies and represents the city. I wanted to take that love one step further, as in, do something about it - If you really love NY, here's how to make it better. I was influenced by several elements in Glaser's mark: the words set in all caps, the copy set centered, the typeface that is reminiscent of a typewriter font, and a single word (the heart) emphasized with a different color. I sketched several different lines of wording and layout arrangements. The most crucial part of the message, just one piece, is centered on one line and set in colors and values to give them more importance. I showed to some designer friends and got some good input from Frank (instead of red, use green to represent the environment) and Sean (include the word think since that's what the campaign is about).

The campaign

Bumper sticker

Card to hand out

I take these cards with me when I wear the shirt and I hand them to anyone who picks up just one piece of litter or if someone reads my shirt and asks about it. If I see someone pick up litter, I reward them with an offer of a free teeshirt.

Stock of shirts, The included receipt

Me turning away from a woman so she could read the back of the shirt. She had dropped something on the ground but later on the subway we struck up a conversation. Jim picking up just one piece of litter in Greenwich Village.

Website Design by Bill Davis and Jennifer Zink

How you can help
1. Order several teeshirts.
2. Wear one as often as you can.
3. Give others to your friends. Encourage them to wear them.
4. Pick up litter. Put it in the nearest trash can.
5. Let others see you do this one simple act.

Trained at Six Flags to pick up litter: summers 1967-70
Got disgusted & decided to do something about litter: June 2008
Sketches: June 2008
Copyright: James Robert Watson, 2008
Shirts ordered: July 2008
Production and website design funding: James W & Lorraine Watson
Website and Facebook uploaded: August 18, 2008
Website removed: July, 2011