Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Shoo, go away litterbugs February 21, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Lying on the sidewalk in front of my house, a beer bottle, one of many that land there, on the boulevard and in the yard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

LIVING ALONG A BUSY STREET means more than dealing with noisy traffic. It also means dealing with litter. Tossed beer bottles and cans. Fast food bags and containers. Lots of those. Even a tire, which rolled off a vehicle and slammed into the side of our house, just missing the gas meter many years ago. And this winter, a stop sign propelled into the yard after a car went out of control on the icy street, jumped the curb and took out the sign.

Litter photographed several months ago at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

It bugs me when people litter. The phrase “Don’t be a litterbug” comes to mind. If you’re of a certain age, you perhaps remember that 1960s anti-littering ad campaign. Lady Bird Johnson (First Lady to President Lyndon B. Johnson) championed efforts to stop littering and to limit billboards visually littering our roadways.

Hiking boots, tossed into the creek at Falls Creek County Park, rural Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2021)

As a teen, I once picked up litter from road ditches in my home county of Redwood. Employed through a southwestern Minnesota summertime program for low income families, I joined three other girls in working for the county highway department. One day we were tasked with collecting litter. Now decades later I recall only two of the many items we gathered from ditches—a dirty diaper and a torn up love letter. During our noon lunch break, we pieced together that letter. I wish I recalled the words written on that lined notebook paper. But I only remember how entertained we were.

Sometimes balls roll down the hill and into our yard, never to be retrieved by children, but by me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

Thankfully we’ve come a long ways in eliminating litter—although I still see plenty—and in reducing trash sent to the landfill. Recycling helps. My eldest daughter and her husband even participate in organic recycling. In this program offered through their south metro county, they save food scraps, tissues, napkins and more which can be recycled. Yes, it’s extra work. But I applaud this additional effort to limit what goes into our landfills.

I photographed this abandoned refrigerator on the shoulder of a gravel road just outside Faribault last fall. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2021)

Of all the littering, other than in my own yard, I’m particularly bothered by the dumping of appliances, mattresses and furniture into ditches and along roadways. I recognize getting rid of these unwanted items can prove costly. Some cities host annual community clean-up days to collect items like these. And maybe that’s the solution because not everyone can afford disposal. Make the disposal easy, convenient and free, or low cost.

To the left in this image, you can see the black tire mark on the siding from a tire that came off a vehicle and rolled down the hill, slamming into our house. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Therein lies a benefit of living along a busy street. Whenever Randy and I want to get rid of something, because we’ve upgraded or no longer need the item, we set it curbside tagged with a FREE sign. And each time, someone stops to claim our discards. Swing set. Recliner. Lamp. End table. Headboard and frame. Bookshelf. And more items that I’m not recalling. Sure, maybe we could have sold these things, but we didn’t want the hassle. And, if someone needed what we no longer needed, then we were happy to give it away.

I found this tire repair tool in a street corner flowerbed by our house. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

But please, dear people, who pass by our house either on foot or by vehicle, we don’t need your litter.

TELL ME: What litter/discards/trash bother you in particular? What especially unusual items have you seen tossed in a ditch, onto a sidewalk, along the road, at a nature center…? Do you recycle and, if yes, what?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


18 Responses to “Shoo, go away litterbugs”

  1. beth Says:

    I’m not a fan of litter either. the worst for me is the bags filled with dog leavings. the idea is to pick up after your dog. and then, get rid of it somewhere that is not the ground.

  2. Valerie Says:

    Sorry for all the garbage you have to pick up. I have a friend who also lives on a busy street and it’s the same for her.
    We have a walking path along the side of our house, but fortunately there is rarely any garbage to pick up.

  3. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    For me, I hate seeing cigarette butts on the city sidewalks and even worse is watching people do it…not even trying to hide it. A few fun facts to understand why I am so disgusted.
    *98% cigarette filters are made of plastic, so they are not biodegradable, it takes at least 9 months, or more for the butt to decompose
    *The cigarette butts stick around for a long time and leach toxic chemicals such as Arsenic & Lead into the environment, leading to water land and air pollution.
    Not to mention the eye-sore it causes around city street and business’s.
    *fun facts taken from truth initiative.org

  4. Oh my, if I started listing all the items I have found over the years that people just tossed…well it would be more than one blog, for sure. As for a better system of getting rid of unwanted items, I think the Dutch have a great system. Each household is allowed 3 cubic meters of items free each year at the drop off landfill point. The items are sorted into bins (large appliances, metal, electrical, etc) then they recycle as much as they can. It limits the amount of items just dumped (although that happens here too, canals are full with unwanted bicycles each year) along the streets.

  5. Norma Says:

    I lived across the street from an elementary school for many years. Much of the kids’ work and notes to the parents ended in my yard. I also drove daily on a country road for several years. There was a sofa that sat out there for over a year beside the road before it was removed. That and other debris. Back in the days before I started working, I would take my kids out on that road, and we really made a good haul picking up bottles. Got some good spending money for those bottles. I really despise the litter also, Audrey.

    • Thanks for sharing your “litter” stories, Norma. I’m amazed that a couch would sit along the side of a road for more than a year. Wow. Thanks to you and your kids for picking up those bottles, doing your part to clean up the landscape while also earning money.

  6. Litterbugs are the worst. I don’t understand why it is easier to litter than put in the trash. It’s irresponsible.

  7. I really dislike seeing bags of trash and appliances on the side of the road. The worst is when people throw their animals out like trash.

    • I haven’t seen domestic animals tossed like trash, other than the dead cat I found alongside our garage a few years ago. Not tossed there, but, for whatever reason, died there. I called local animal control to pick it up and initially they didn’t want to do that. I had to press my point, emphasizing that this was a stray cat in town and how was I supposed to dispose of the cat.

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