Between the advance of spring and the retreat of winter there are generally a few weeks where the detritus of modern life is laid bare along the side of our roads.
Over these few weekends every year, various community groups and volunteers turn out in force to pick up litter that has collected along the roadsides in their respective towns. Collectively tons of trash has been picked up and hauled away.
Roadside litter has the distinguishing characteristic of being both a very small thing and a very big deal. One discarded wrapper by itself is more of an annoyance than a mess worth considering, but mile after mile of such things mars the scenery, damages the environment, and collectively weighs on the spirit.
It is true that without looking for it, you might not immediately notice the difference between a nice clean roadside, and one that still awaits care; much less consider how much work went into the cleanup, but once you look for it, you can see it clearly. Even if you don’t notice, or consider it, it matters.
In a 1982 paper, social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling introduced what became known as the Broken Windows theory. In essence the theory proposes that people take their cues from their surroundings. Ergo, maintaining public areas in clean, well-ordered condition discourages vandalism and social decay.
The theory is controversial, and although it remains unproven, we suspect there is something to it. We rather think litter left alone encourages more litter in the same way a broken window left unrepaired invites more broken windows.
We thank all the volunteers for their quiet and largely unheralded efforts. There are too many roads and too many contributors and not enough volunteers to ever get it all, but as we have seen time and time again, a little bit of effort goes a long, long way. Thank you.