Honeywell: Litter, garbage and Trash Squirrels

Over the last few years, people have become more and more aware of the amount of garbage that we create.

Despite an increase in recycling, the average American still produces about 4.4 pounds of garbage per day, or just over 1,600 pounds per year. Put another way, the average American produced the equivalent of the weight of an average cow in garbage every year. While that might be bad enough, the sad fact is that not all of that garbage is properly disposed of.

According to a Google statistic on litter, the amount of litter we produce is staggering. Cigarette butts, paper, cans, bottles and more are dropped out of moving cars and by pedestrians every day. Cigarette butts comprise 50% of the litter, and the majority of our litter is tossed from the widows of cars. A staggering 9 billion tons of garbage and litter wind up in the ocean every year.

It’s easy to think that litter, while annoying, doesn’t have a serious effect on the world other than aesthetic. That couldn’t be further from the truth, sadly. To use cigarette butts as an example, the average butt takes a dozen years to break down completely and puts dangerous chemicals and elements like arsenic, cadmium and lead into the soil. Plastic bottles can take more than 1,000 years to fully break down, while glass bottles can last more than a million years.

While all of these numbers are concerning, it’s good to know that the litter problem in DeKalb is, at least in part, being tamed thanks to the Trash Squirrels. Meeting every week, typically on Saturdays, the group patrols a chosen area of the town, collecting litter to then be sent to a landfill or for recycling. Since starting earlier this year, the Trash Squirrels have collected tons of litter and disposed of it. That’s not hyperbole; the group has cleared thousands of pounds of plastic, glass, paper and more from parking lots and streets throughout DeKalb.

The group, which plans its trash picking outings on Facebook, sets up specific locations to address several weeks in advance. Those interested in helping meet at the location, usually at 10 a.m. Saturday. All of the necessary materials – gloves, pickers, garbage bags and more – are provided by the group’s main sponsor, downtown’s There’s Fun in Store. Pickers work for two hours to clear as much garbage as they can before coming back and weighing the collected trash.

Coming up on Saturday, Sept. 25, the group has a much bigger plan. Those interested will meet at the East Lagoon on College Ave. at 9 a.m. and will work for four hours to help clean up the Kishwaukee River as a part of National Public Lands Day. Details of the cleanup can be found on the group’s Facebook page. There is no cost to help but signing up is recommended.

So if you’re driving around town on a Saturday morning and see a crew walking along the side of the road and picking up cans, you just might want to consider joining in.