Keep trash to yourself, please

By Steve Estes

Trash has become a rather out-sized concern in the Florida Keys of late. And that’s not hauling out the stuff that gets thrown out by the folks who live and work here. That’s the stuff left on the side of the road, under bridges and in out-of-the-way private dump spots scattered around the island chain.

Nearly every month some group is staging a clean up some where to pick up human trash from the ground, the water, the mangroves, the trees, and anywhere else trash can congregate with just a little bit of wind.

Picking up the refuse left behind by humans is a full-time job. The Monroe County Public Works Department devotes a truck and crew to the task every month. And that crew alone picks up and disposes of an average of more than 30,000 pounds every month.

Just as an example, that would be the equivalent weight of seven SUVs every month.

It would be an understatement to say that’s a lot of trash.

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office has been involved in a program of using agency volunteers, inmates and community volunteers to clean up trash in several locations throughout the Keys.

And after tons of trash came out of the trees and from along the water line, the area looks much better than it did when the evolution started.

We want to say thank you to the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office for their participation in this effort to make this a cleaner, healthier, better place to live.

But that brings us back to the question of why there is a need for these clean ups.

Indian Key has been the cause of many complaints recently for the piles of trash that get left behind by humans using the area for weekend frivolity.

Any walk through the Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key will reveal hidden piles of trash left behind by someone.

Officials have sporadically discussed closing off some off-shore public islands to human use because of the trash those humans leave behind.

And every piece of trash that gets left behind has to be picked up and disposed of by someone, or else it becomes a part of our natural environment, or gets eaten by our wildlife, or gets stuck on some deer’s neck, or gets tangled around some bird’s legs, or becomes earrings for a sea turtle.

Our trash has many lives. And it can affect many lives.

We would hope that people are concerned enough about the planet to keep their trash in the bins where it belongs. But years of wanton destruction through manufacturing, mining, power production, development sprawl and yes, trash, prove, at least to us, that the majority of human beings care very little about the planet they call home, even though right now it’s the only we have.

It’s a shame that we have to blight our view with multitudes of signs just to tell people what they should already know; that littering is bad for the environment, and oh, by the way, it’s also not legal.

So we would ask that our sheriff let his deputies spend a month targeting littering throughout the Keys. With a few thousand fines levied for cluttering up our landscape, maybe our less-than-pristine visitors would spend a little less time trashing the Keys and little more time enjoying it.

We would hate to have our already overtaxed court system bogged down by a few thousand littering cases in the next couple of months, but we’re also sure that our already overtaxed environment would show gratitude if it could for the effort.

We may also have to start thinking along the lines of increasing our signage, just so we can plaster our roadways with public service announcements that tell people we’d appreciate it if they would stop leaving their trash in our neighborhood.

The Florida Keys is a national treasure, visited by more than three million people every year. We can trust most of them not to leave behind the refuse of life when they leave. But we can’t obviously trust them all.

We’ll have to invest in more public trash cans, and the requisite people to keep them emptied so we can keep up with the junk others leave behind. We’ll have to begin to limit the places people can go so they have fewer choices in where to leave their junk. And we’ll have to keep vigilant watch so we can constantly remind our visitors, and some of our residents, that our world is not their trash can.

Or, we can ask our county commission to jack up the fine for littering to an unheard-of amount, fine a few people, let the word get out, and put a stop to this nonsense while helping us pay the costs to clean up after people who obviously just don’t care.

We’re not sure who said it, but it was best said by those who tell us to leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories and pictures.

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