South America has a trash problem. Maybe not everywhere (Arequipa had it together), but most places we’ve been have a trash problem. And even more damning than seeing trash on the side of the road, littering beaches, and inside of national parks, is watching south Americans toss wrappers out of bus windows without a second thought. This is truly something that I can’t even imagine doing, but am I just the end product of a successful awareness campaign? As we travel up the Pacific Coast, I’m seeing varying degrees of trash awareness.
Peru seems to be furthest behind, with no public notices advising citizens to deposit trash into bins. I saw a child throw his ice cream wrapper out a bus window. That’s about as low as you get, because it shows that you aren’t even teaching the younger generation responsibility.
Ecuador (the inspiration for this post) is somewhere in the middle. You can definitely see that they are trying. There are signs in every bus urging passengers to deposit unwanted items in the trash can. Many buses even provide plastic bags at each aisle seat for this purpose. On the beaches, ad campaigns convincingly tell the public why they shouldn’t toss their waste on the sand. In spite of all this, we still watched a grown man, a bus company worker no less, throw his entire lunch container out the front door of the bus, item by item.
By contrast, in the Pacific Northwest my only connection to littering is seeing “$100 littering fine” and “this highway mile is sponsored by ____” signs along the freeways. But I know this wasn’t always the case, and perhaps we’ve only just come a long ways. Maybe Ecuador is 20 years behind us, and Peru another 20 on top of that. Any opinions? Anyone remember a time when people in the USA thoughtlessly chucked waste out of moving vehicles?