Littering really annoys me, indoors, in the streets, in parks – and particularly in woods and wilderness. My whole family often collects bagfuls of garbage on walks or visits to the lake. I can’t understand the mind of a person who drops an ice cream wrapper on a forest trail, particularly one that they walk themselves all the time. To me, its like crapping on your own couch.
But thinking dispassionately about it, I realise that most litter is an aesthetic problem and not an ecological one. It isn’t toxic. Few pieces of litter hurt wildlife in any mechanical way. Most of it quickly degrades or gets grown over or ends up in lake-bottom sediment. I think the reason I hate littering is that it produces clutter and it mars natural vistas. Both of these aesthetic ideals are typical for the Swedish middle class to which I belong. Also, there’s the fact that the litter is largely eye-catching printed packaging that I feel is particularly “wrong” in a natural setting. I wouldn’t mind as much if the litter consisted of apple cores, potsherds, bones and knapped quartz.
Aesthetics are a matter of taste. I rarely see people do the littering. But judging from the folks that I meet around my housing area, the woods and the lake, my guess is that the litterers around here are mainly working-class and/or recent immigrants. The reason that they litter with such abandon is in all likelihood that they don’t share the aesthetic ideals of the Swedish middle class. Litter doesn’t bother them. They don’t share my taste in interior decoration either. And it’s their woods too.
Swedish Parliament recently passed a new anti-littering law that allows the police to hand out fines on the spot to litterers. Excellent for me and my peeps who are more likely to pick up others’ litter than ever to drop any. But I feel a little uneasy about the law. If the working-class recent-immigrant youth who drop beer cans around my area really had a voice in Parliament, that legislation would never have been passed. Littering laws encourage everybody to become more like the middle class, to which almost every single member of parliament belongs.
So I try not to think about those litterers in terms of ignorant moronic trash.