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COL News flash: It is your problem

One of my colleagues said the other day that he was astounded at how much trash he'd seen strewn along Rochester roadways, streets and boulevards in recent days.

His comment prompted me to take a half-hour drive in and around the city on Friday afternoon to see if the litter problem was any worse this year than in past springs.

Not surprisingly, I saw lots of discarded stuff. Some of it had obviously been purposely heaved out car windows or trunks -- a small television set and two bags trash off Silver Creek Road N.E.; a bucket of paint along Viola Road N.E.; and tons of beer and pop cans, fast food wrappers and drink containers along U.S. 14 East.

Some of the unsightly junk was likely the result of a juvenile prank -- not one, not two, but three shopping carts in Bear Creek near the Fourth Street Southeast bridge.

Other trash might have escaped from the back of a pickup or hatchback -- a sofa cushion along West Circle Drive, bags of leaves and garden refuse along 50th Ave. N.E., and 5-gallon plastic buckets and cardboard boxes all over town.

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Still more of the refuse was probably left where it was because the litterers didn't consider it trash -- a banana peel on Civic Center Drive, and tens of thousands of cigarette butts at busy intersections and outside public buildings all over town.

To be fair to the citizens of Rochester, though, I need to point out that, compared to other communities I've visited this spring, our city is relatively clean. Except for a wind-blown plastic grocery sack here and there I saw almost no trash Friday afternoon around Silver Lake and other city parks, playgrounds and schools, and the vast majority of businesses and residential properties I passed by during my unscientific survey were debris-free.

I concluded that the trash problem in this neck of the urban woods is no worse this spring than it has been in past years. It's just that April is when we tend notice litter because it's built up over four or five months of winter, and Adopt-A-Highway and other public service crews haven't had a chance to spruce things up.

Still, it always amazes me how rude some people are when it comes to garbage. I won't waste space here scolding people who dump things like TV sets, bags of household trash and love seats along roadways. Let's face it, those folks are the not type to read newspapers.

But there might be hope for the more passive litterers. You know the type. People who fail to properly batten down their trash loads on the way to the county incinerator or compost center and just leave the junk lay, even after they realize it's slipped out the back of the truck. People who rake dirt, leaves and garbage off their lawns and into the street. People who while lounging in their back yards flick cigarette butts over the fence and onto the sidewalk or, worse, their neighbor's yard. People who dump their ashtrays on the ground at roadside rest areas. People who ... well, you get the picture.

Last summer, while I was out for a run, I saw a guy who was walking ahead of me pick up a flier that had blown onto the sidewalk. The man glanced at the flier for a few seconds and then crumpled it up and threw back on the sidewalk.

When I passed him I gave him a silent glare of admonition. He threw up his hands as if to say, "It's not my litter. I was just looking at it."

It was a tiny, inconsequential incident, but I think it gets at the heart of what it means to be a good neighbor and a good citizen. I think it means expanding your zone of concern beyond your own home and yard -- to your block, your neighborhood and your community. It means donating at least a tiny portion of your time to public service. It means rejecting the always-powerful human urge to walk away from what we deem "someone one else's problem." It means doing what's right.

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Greg Sellnow's columns appear Tuesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at 285-7703 or by e-mail at sellnow@postbulletin.com.

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