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  • Benjamin (MinHyeok) Kim

Sidewalk Littering: The Unseen Environmental Threat

Benjamin Kim

California, a renowned state for its diverse and stunning landscapes, as well as its vibrant and bustling cities, faces a pressing challenge that threatens its beauty and disrupts its delicate ecosystems. This challenge, originating from the issue of littering, begins primarily from the sidewalks. Beyond merely leaving an unsightly mark on the environment, this problem holds far-reaching implications that extend to marine life and the overall well-being of both residents and visitors.

The seriousness of this issue becomes evident as pedestrians, often including adolescents/students, casually litter wrappers, cigarette butts, and other forms of trash along sidewalks. This is particularly prevalent in areas where visible trash cans are scarce. Over time, these thoughtlessly abandoned garbage accumulate, especially during rain and storms, resulting in obstructed drains and an unattractive accumulation of debris. Such unsanitary conditions not only affect the aesthetics of the community but also set the stage for more far-reaching repercussions.

However, the main problem arises when the remnants of this litter find their way into rivers and, ultimately, the Pacific ocean. Microplastics, one of the most widespread consequences of littering, pose a heavy threat to marine ecosystems. These tiny particles, often invisible to the naked eye, can destroy many levels of aquatic life, from plankton to large marine mammals. With a combination of overfishing and industrial products, marine environments would eventually be destroyed.

Overall, such improper disposal of a candy wrapper can accumulate into a substantial environmental burden over time. A mere 1% of untreated water, when mixed with the natural environment, can lead to significant pollution. Disturbingly, recent studies have indicated that California recycles only about 23% of its water, escalating concerns about water pollution.

Thankfully, several approaches can be made to address this challenge:

Strategic Trash Receptacles: Placing trash bins strategically in sidewalk areas can discourage thoughtless littering. Convenient disposal options reduce the incentive for improper waste disposal, while visual cues remind individuals of their responsibility.

Public-Private Collaboration: By forging partnerships among local businesses, nonprofits, and municipalities, a shared commitment to cleanliness is established. Together, they can install and maintain a clean environment.

Recycling Initiatives: Emphasizing recycling not only reduces waste but also taps into human psychology. Offering incentives, like rewards or discounts, links personal gain with eco-conscious behavior, encouraging wider adoption of recycling practices.

In conclusion, California's struggle with littering is a microcosm of a global challenge that demands immediate attention. By addressing this issue through strategic measures, increased public awareness, and collaborative efforts, the state can restore its natural beauty, preserve its ecosystems, and set an example for responsible environmental conservation. The path to a cleaner and more sustainable California begins with recognition of this issue and resolving it step by step.

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