Roadside Clean-Up

Last May, my family joined the Cotuit Civic Association in a roadside clean-up of our hometown.  We walked up one side and back down the other of a well-traveled road, trash bags in hand, and picked up the litter that had accumulated over the course of the year.  We couldn’t help but be astonished by the consistency of the products we found alongside the road. The top three, most common objects we found on our clean-up were:

  • Marlboro Cigarettes
  • Empty Goldschlager Nips [1]
  • Dunkin’ Donuts Cups and Straws

I was struck right away that these products were all designed to contain substances that intentionally alter the consumer’s brain and mood, often described as “vice” goods.  Walking alongside the road and collecting over 50 empty Goldschlager nips, we theorized how they could have gotten to that spot.  We agreed the bottles were probably all deposited by the same person, someone with a regular routine that involved traveling down this road and drinking a Goldschlager daily.  I thought it might be someone walking on the sidewalk, as we were only a block from a popular liquor store, but another group member was certain it was someone drinking while they drove down the road, flinging the empty nip out the window.

I wondered who these hundreds of people were, responsible for the dozen full trash bags of litter we gathered in just two hours.  Some of the litter must have been accidental (flown out the window, dropped unknowingly), but the vast majority of it was a food or beverage package discarded after the product had been consumed.

This represented to me a particular way of thinking about food. The one-time owners of these products may have thought food should be: consumed on the go, processed by global corporations, designed to have an explicit effect on the body, and inherently disposable.  This is a world view shared (and shaped) by our food system, and readily visible in the advertising of the largest food corporations.

All this doomsday ruminating was getting me down, but I perked up when I found a $10 bill among the coffee cups – the Cotuit Civic Association scored a donation from an unknowing litterer.


A note on sourcing for this photo: I purchased the Goldschlager nip and the Dunkin Donuts coffee cup, and found the empty Marlboro pack on the ground outside my apartment.  I hope it is clear that these thoughts are solely my own, and that I’m not endorsing nor demonizing any particular product. 

[1] A ‘nip’ is a single shot of hard liquor sold in a small plastic (or sometimes glass) bottle, common in New England. Nips often cost as little as $1, and are small enough to hide in a pocket and surreptitiously swig in one gulp.

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