Jeff Hammer: A mountain of trash

Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.

When I want and need some fresh air, I usually, depending on the season and the weather, choose one of two activities: I either ride my bike around town for an hour or so or I hoof it. Each outing is a little different, but for the most part similarities outweigh the differences.

But lately, I’ve noticed a difference that is more than a little concerning, at least for me. Obviously, this change doesn’t bother a lot of folks, but it’s kind of a thorn in my side.


Lately, whether I’m walking with my wife or on my own, and I see an aluminum can or an empty potato chip bag I’ll pick it up and keep it in my hand until I’m home and then I’ll place it in one of the garbage cans in my garage. No harm, no foul. An individual piece of litter doesn’t bother me much.

One of the more common routes of our foot journeys near my neighborhood takes us across the LVHS parking lot, around the soccer fields, down to Main Street, and from there to elsewhere around town; and I can say without a doubt that the worst littering in town, by far, is in the high school parking lot.

Just last week, I took a walk in the early afternoon, and as I was cutting across the parking lot on a diagonal, the amount of trash that was obviously intentionally dumped out of students’ cars was disgusting. A multitude of empty fast food wrappings, drink containers, and a variety of other refuse covered huge swaths of the blacktop. Some of the trash had obviously been there a while as it had been smashed flat by vehicles, but much of it had been carelessly deposited that day during the students’ lunch time shortly before I had begun my walk.

The sight of such filth was revolting, and I wondered: What are people thinking when they make the conscious decision to dump so much litter in a public place such that the sight of it becomes nauseating to others.


So I decided to perform a little research.

Later, typing “Why do people litter?” into the search bar of my computer, I was rewarded with a list of many websites from which to choose. Apparently, the issue of littering has been studied a lot. Rather than spend a lot of time reading as many websites as I felt I had time for, I made the rational choice of starting with the first listing, which proved to be a good one, in my opinion.

The website provided an article entitled “Causes, Problems, and Possible Solutions to Stop Littering.” I won’t quote the article word for word, but after reading it, I realized that most of the information contained therein was spot on for this situation.


The first cause of littering given was “The presence of littering in an area.” 

To be more specific, if litter already exists in an area an assumption is made that it’s acceptable to litter there. I’m not sure about this one. I can’t believe that any teenager truly believes that it’s acceptable to litter in their school parking lot, but the problem seems to be getting worse, so maybe there is some truth to this cause.

Reason number three, in my opinion, sums up the behavior of littering pretty succinctly. It simply states: “Laziness and carelessness has bred a culture of habitual littering…people have become too lazy and unwilling to throw away trash appropriately.” 


Or possibly, related to this reason is the belief that there is no consequence for littering…that there are others, who will in good time magically appear, and clean up these messes, like one’s mother perhaps.

I didn’t want to believe that no consequences exist for littering, so I looked up the City of Lander ordinance that addresses littering and found this: 

Section 11-2-7 Littering

A. No person shall throw, drop, deposit or abandon any waste, spital, excrement, or filth on public or private property with or without the consent of the property owner as authorized by City personnel and ordinance.

C. The driver of a vehicle from which any waste has been dropped or thrown may be held liable under this section without proof as to which occupant of the vehicle was responsible.

I didn’t include subsection B for lack of relevance. 

In a perfect world, this ordinance would be enforced, but I don’t see it happening.

The fifth reason the article offers for littering is that there is a lack of receptacles, and I think this is one of the true reasons for this behavior. There are no trash cans in the high school parking lot for students to conveniently use, and I can understand why not. Theft and damage (to both the trash cans and students’ vehicles) would be a constant hazard, but I didn’t see any trash cans on the sidewalks leading up to the high school entrance either.

I decided not to spend too much space on problems of littering, as I felt that those would be self-evident to our well-informed readers who tune into County 10; but here are a quick couple of examples listed in the article. 

First of all, it’s unhealthy for animals who, during this time of year, are having a more difficult time finding something to eat. There have been instances when I’ve been walking through the parking lot and I see crows, ravens, and other birds picking through the garbage looking for anything edible. The possibility of them eating something plastic or metal or some other hazardous substance not meant for consumption is very real.

In addition, littering affects the aesthetic value and local tourism of our community. On the evening of the day after my saunter through the high school parking lot, my wife and I attended basketball games at the fieldhouse where the Lander Tiger boys and girls hosted the Thermopolis Bobcats. 

I can’t say for certain what the visiting parents thought upon having no choice but to park among all the trash in the parking lot, but I can guess, and I’m guessing their lasting impressions weren’t very positive, and like it or not, it is visitors’ impressions of our town that may encourage them to help our local economy…or not.

What are some possible solutions? 

As a teacher, I learned a long time ago that the problem of trying to engage disinterested parents, who should have taught their children at an early age the importance of maintaining a clean environment, in correcting their children’s behavior would be a losing battle. A good portion of these teens exhibiting bad behavior learn it from their parents.

There  might be some readers who dismiss this kind of student behavior as kids just being kids, that they will eventually grow out of it. That line of reasoning smells as bad as a big pile of fresh road apples and has never been my experience. I pick up trash every year when I’m hunting on public land, put there by adults who should have been taught better in their formative years. 

I believe it’s also an insult to the vast majority of teenagers who do not engage in poor behavior.

So maybe it’s up to the law enforcement and a realization from the powers that be at the high school that maybe there is a problem that is not being addressed. Kids can’t be forced into good behavior and they can’t be expected to suddenly develop a sense of pride in their school and community, but there should be consequences for illegal behavior.

Maybe a police presence, just an occupied car, in the parking lot during the short period of time students leave and return to campus from lunch could be a deterrent. After the first fine for littering, maybe the word would be passed along that emptying one’s car of trash onto the parking lot would no longer be tolerated.

Perhaps the high school could offer plastic bags that students easily grab on their way out the door for lunch. Students could then place their trash in these bags and then place the bags in a conveniently placed garbage can on their way back into the building after returning from lunch.

Maybe the simple act of respectfully encouraging students to take care of their trash could help in some small way. 

I know that some readers will say that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill of trash, but I can assure them that collectively, over the course of a school year, it’s a mountain of trash, and it’s totally unnecessary.


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