Opinion: Let’s clean up our act, America

Stamford Advocate
April 22, 2020
By Helen Lowman

In the face of a global health crisis, we are seeing a national epidemic of littered gloves, wipes, and other personal protective equipment (PPE). For me and the millions of volunteers Keep America Beautiful represents, this is intolerable. As Americans, I know we care about one another. I know we care about our communities. And I know we care about our environment. Please, let’s all act that way.

Since the founding of Keep America Beautiful in 1953, our organization has undergone a lot of change. What began as a nonprofit organization to help educate Americans how to properly manage litter has grown into a movement. Keep America Beautiful now has millions of volunteers working with more than 650 affiliates in communities across the country. In cities and towns, large and small, urban and rural, they help pick up litter others have left behind, improve recycling, and beautify our communities by cleaning and greening public spaces.

What we are seeing and hearing from our Keep America Beautiful affiliates across the country is upsetting. People are forgetting that during these difficult times, we are all in this together and have a shared responsibility to keep our communities clean. Too many are tossing the wipes, masks and gloves they are using to keep themselves safe in parking lots, on the streets, along walking trails, and on bike paths, creating eyesores and health hazards. Our trash is not someone else’s problem — it’s our individual responsibility to dispose of it properly, especially when one considers the additional burden that has been placed on our sanitation and recycling professionals by this health crisis.

Our belief is in the power of every individual — each of us — working together to make change. As Americans, we must stop littering. Not only is littering ugly and bad for the environment, but when not picked up by volunteers, it costs an estimated $11.5 billion (mostly tax dollars) each year to remediate. And if not picked up by others, litter can wash into our waterways and end up in our oceans.

Now is the time for all of us to show that we care. As a nation, we’ve recently experienced profound changes. This remedy is simple. When you are out with gloves, grab one in one gloved hand to pull it off and use your clean hand to pull the other glove over the first one turning it inside out. You can then tuck your wipes in that neat and tidy package. Once you’ve done that, dispose of your gloves in the nearest trash can or put them in a bag, take it home, and dispose of it there. It’s easy, it’s clean, and it’s the right thing to do.

For more than two decades, the Great American Cleanup has been the signature event of Keep America Beautiful. Over the history of the program, we have picked up over a billion pounds of litter, debris, and recycling, and have cleaned more roadways than the entire Interstate Highway System —more than 10 times over. This year — in the face of a coronavirus pandemic — we’ve had to curtail our public events. So instead, we’re asking all Americans to join us in cleaning up our act by cleaning up our PPEs. Let’s keep America beautiful — even during this unprecedented period.

In time, we will be outside again, enjoying picnics with our families, hikes with our friends, and afternoons at the beach. When that happens, let’s make sure our nation’s public spaces are clean, green, and beautiful for all Americans to enjoy.

Helen Lowman is President and CEO of Keep America Beautiful.