Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Paradise trashed

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 3/1/17 

Dan Moser
Thanks to a recent medical matter, I’ve been sidelined for a few weeks and unable to ride my bike or run as usual. But I’ve been walking a lot, so at least I’m still able to get out and enjoy our beautiful weather and surroundings. During this time, I’ve also had occasion to visit many parts of Southwest Florida where I try to get out of the car and spend time checking out the surroundings close-up and on foot. Doing this serves two purposes: it reminds me why I live here and provides insight into some of the problems that exist throughout the county.

For Florida Weekly readers, I’d rather be writing about the many good things our outdoors offer instead of all-too-frequently focusing on what’s wrong. But overlooking major aspects of everyday living here in Southwest Florida is something I’m unwilling to do until these glaring (at least to me) negative community attributes are at least on the radar of the general public and others who can begin to address the problems.

Litter at Buckingham Park. DAN MOSER / FLORIDA WEEKLY
Litter at Buckingham Park.
The recent news about our ranking as the most dangerous place in America to be a pedestrian ( and our ongoing and reoccurring water quality problems are just two of other troublesome facts that the tourism industry and other promoters of our piece of paradise must figure out how to spin so they don’t adversely affect business. Another dirty little secret that’s apparent to anyone who pays attention (or isn’t numb to) but is rarely mentioned — our widespread and long-standing litter problem.

When our rainy season’s lush greenery shrinks back as things dry up, as is now the case, the proliferation of litter just about anywhere one looks becomes even more apparent. It’s most obvious along our roads, in our water retention areas, and on canal and stream banks. Mowing crews do what they can by picking up cups, cans, bottles, fast-food packaging, car parts and other large items before they cut, but just as quick as they remove much of the mess, it reappears. Occasional litter is understandable but our trashed roadsides, natural areas and waterways are an embarrassment and a problem needing to be acknowledged and addressed.

I’ve written in the past expressing my opinion that there’s a direct link between littering and other antisocial behaviors such as aggressive driving. Those who can, in clear conscious, toss a bag of fast-food trash or flick cigarette butts out their window (especially when it’s wildfire season) most likely have no concern for anyone but themselves, a trait that surely affects their driving habits, among other behaviors. Even taking into account enforcement efforts, our governments can do little about sociopathic behavior. They can, however, deal more appropriately with the results of it.

To start with, trash haulers, who are generally contracted by or directly run by local governments, frequently spew litter from their trucks as they hastily load trash into their vehicles and when reaching high speeds on the way to the Solid Waste Resource Recovery Facility in Buckingham. Plentiful evidence is left on the ground on trash/recycle days in our neighborhoods. And a recent visit to Buckingham Park, a popular place with football and baseball fields as well as a dog park, and which is directly adjacent to the waste facility, affirmed the problem coming from the trucks: litter of all types and sizes, from boxes to cigarette butts, lined Buckingham Road from both directions leading to its entrance. You’d think they’d at least keep the area immediately surrounding the facility clean.

Governments can also either increase their own efforts to keep public space clear of litter or provide more resources to organizations such as Keep Lee County Beautiful so they can do the job. Just like other tax-funded maintenance and operation services government is expected to provide, keeping our environment clean should be given adequate attention and resources. Perhaps some of the tourism bed tax revenue could be used to supplement this service since having a trashed paradise only makes their sales job harder. Or, similar to the bed tax, Lee County should consider adding a tax to the litter most frequently found, including fast food, sugary and alcoholic beverages, candy and sweets, and, of course, tobacco products.

Finally, I’d like to believe it’s a relatively small percentage of the population that creates such a big problem for the rest of us. Obviously, they should be called out, fined, or otherwise made to pay for their behavior. But what else can be done is the big question (maybe young people will be our salvation). If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them. This problem has been ignored to the point that seeing litter everywhere has become acceptable to many of us, just as traffic injuries and deaths have become.

Be sure to visit BikeWalkLee’s blog ( for advocacy news and active-living events happening around Lee County and Southwest Florida.

Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and pathways. ¦

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at and 334-6417.

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