IDEA #41. Make a project of picking up all the litter on a single block of a street or section of a road every day for a set period of time. (Be careful of traffic, though!) If you want to make this into a science and math project, you could even keep a careful record of the weight of the litter or of exactly what sorts of things you are finding. Write an article for your local paper (or at least a letter to the editor) about the things people throw away carelessly.
Roadside signs across the nation proclaim that businesses and organizations are eagerly joining adopt-a-highway programs, but there is no reason that such arrangements cannot be scaled down. If the young person were to decide at “adopt a street” or even a block, there will no doubt be, sad to say, a steady supply of litter to be picked up; perhaps it might even be possible to engage a few friends in the activity, or even a school or youth group.
Selecting a place to perform this service may be a challenge, as a busy street or highway may just not be appropriate. There are obvious safety considerations here, and some adult supervision might be needed; at a minimum, bright-colored clothing should be worn. If no plausible place presents itself, perhaps a local hiking trail or park would be a worthy substitute.
Another safety-related issue has to do with sanitation, and this might well be an activity best done while wearing rubber gloves. Direct contact with litter should be avoided, as should contact with other roadside hazards—animal droppings or certain plants like poison ivy, which thrives on many roadsides all over North America. A good scrub after pick-up duties have been performed is highly recommended.
This activity can be done once, as a Clean-Up Day kind of event, or regularly, while walking a dog or just taking a stroll after school. A whole other issue is that of quantity of material to be picked up—some places may require multiple trash bags; perhaps deposit cans or bottles can underwrite the purchase. Even in no-deposit states, aluminum is recyclable and can be turned in to scrap metal dealers for a small premium.
For what it is worth, the study of trash and litter is actually a sub-specialty in the study of material culture, and there might be something to be learned from taking a systematic approach to collection and analysis. Counting cigarette butts or classifying beverage containers may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but the information may be of interest to some young people and perhaps of real interest or value to someone else in the community.
An excellent complement to this activity would be the composition of a letter to a municipal body or local newspaper, either decrying the behavior of the litterers whose carelessness one has learned about first-hand or urging broader community clean-up efforts.