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Americans don't care too much for beauty
they'll shit in a river, dump battery acid in a stream
They'll watch dead rats wash up on the beach
and complain if they can't swim

Excerpt from a tune by Lou Reed called “Last Great American Whale

I’m not here to take issue with Mr. Reed’s thoughts on Americans when it comes to matters of the environment or for that matter, anything else. In the long run, I probably consider myself a fan of him and his music but I’m not here to talk about that. Lets just say that America is a country with so many contradictions that the list could probably stretch from New York to California and back again. For every hawk, there’s a dove, for every right to lifer, there’s a pro choicer, for every liberal, there’s a conservative and for every Democrat, there’s a Republican. Hey, nobody ever said it would be easy.

But, when the topic comes to littering, I think most Americans are on the same page for once. Unless you’re one of those evil corporate empires that prefers to conduct their business under the cover of darkness or some small business owner looking to cut a few corners, most Americans don’t care to treat the land they live on like some kind of garbage dump. But for the few that do and to try and cure that type of behavior, a grassroots organization that called itself “Keep America Beautiful” was started way back in 1953. Since then it has grown to be the countries largest volunteer based community action group with affiliates in over 15,000 towns all across the land.

Their emphasis focuses around three main issues. Litter prevention is number one on the list. I still remember the commercial from way back in 1970 of the “Crying Indian”. As he surveyed the landscape and what was happening to it, he turned to the camera and a lone tear escaped his eye and dribbled down his cheek. Yeah, I know, Americans wiped out the Indians in a cruel and unmerciful manner but it’s still a pretty powerful image and it sticks with me to this day. The other slogan that sticks in my craw was either a poster or a television commercial of an owl that was tagged “Give a hoot, don’t pollute”.

Next on their agenda is waste reduction. This includes education and recycling programs across the country as well as coming up with innovative ways to put garbage to better use instead letting it fester in a dump.

Last but not least is their beautification programs. This includes the planting of trees, the renovating of buildings and the cleaning up of parks, rivers, lakes and streams.

Starting in 1999 the folks a Keep America Beautiful launched an national campaign called “The Great American Cleanup”. One day of the year communities all across the country rely on volunteers to pick up trash that’s either sitting on the sides of the road or just been dumped for no reason whatsoever except for laziness. It’s become an annual event since then.

According to our friends(?) over at Wikipedia, here’s some evidence that the proof is in the pudding in the form of hard numbers when it comes to just how effective they are. These numbers are for 2004 alone and if you ask me, they’re pretty impressive.


  • Litter and trash collected – 150,000,000 pounds or 75,000 tons
  • Roadways/highways cleaned – 97,000 miles
  • Railroad track sides cleaned – 900 miles
  • Park acreage cleaned – 32,300 acres
  • Nature/hiking trails cleaned – 2000 miles
  • Playgrounds and the like cleaned – 4,000
  • River/lake shorelines cleaned – 6,500 miles
  • Underwater cleanups – 80
  • Wetlands restored – 8,200 acres
  • Illegal dumpsites cleaned – 2,600
  • Junk cars removed – 7,200

    Recycling efforts

  • Clothing collected and donated for re-use – 5,800,000 pounds
  • Bags of aluminum/steel recycled – 645,000
  • Bags of newspapers recycled – 691,000
  • Tires collected and recycled – 1,220,000
  • Car batteries recycled – 21,000

    Beautification programs

  • Trees planted – 131,000
  • Flowers and bulbs planted – 5,000,000
  • Homes and businesses painted – 1,300
  • Graffiti sites cleaned up – 6,000

    In closing, I don’t know if those numbers even begin to make a dent on all the trash and blight and whatnot that surrounds most of us each day.

    I do know that you have start somewhere.


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