We’re drowning in trash

Interstate 680 underpass path at Penitencia Creek. There’s a homeless camp nearby.


In the midst of a global pandemic I’m keeping busy picking up trash during my rides.

There’s no shortage of trash lining the streets of Silicon Valley. This is no Switzerland.

You’ve got to pick your battles. I avoid homeless camps. Not that they’re intentionally tossing their trash, but when you don’t have a place to live, your living space becomes your garbage dump. No weekly trash pickup here.

Even our pristine looking Santa Cruz Mountains are one big garbage dump. Rick Denman, who started documenting his trash pickup on mountain roads on Bicyclean! (Facebook), has found huge dumping grounds among the redwoods. It’s mind-boggling.

How did things get this bad and what can be done about it?

Like homelessness, trash is an epidemic with no easy cure. It tracks closely with homelessness. The more homeless, the more trash.

The increase in trash is closely linked to income disparity. It’s also linked to housing shortages, and packaging that uses plastic. The poorest neighborhoods are also the trashiest, through no fault of their own.

I don’t have an answer. I’m under no illusion that my efforts, and those of Bicyclean! aren’t going to save the world, but hey, it feels good to see a clean stretch of road for a week or two.

As one Caltrans official told me, “As soon as we clean up a place, it’s dirty again.”

There’s something else that comes into play with regards to garbage. Community pride plays a role, closely linked to social norms.

One day I was being driven by a family member in the Philippines on a mountain road. It was hard not to notice all the garbage lining the road. The driver tossed his fast food bag and drink out the door. I gasped. “Why did you do that?”

He just shrugged. “Everyone does it.”

It’s not the Filipino way, tossing garbage. Consider Palawan. It’s a beautiful island that caters to tourism. Their pride in community is uplifting. I looked hard and didn’t find any trash lining the road. Like all jungle climates, buildings do not last long and can look rundown. But ignoring the condition of the buildings, the place is spotless.

In Silicon Valley, dumping is a problem. People without means are more likely to dump their junk. They’re either uneducated or can’t afford to get rid of construction materials, household trash, and so on.

Where there’s a shortage of community pride, you can expect more trash.

Enjoy your ride, and pick up a piece of trash while you’re at it.

For years someone cleaned this area after it had become a hangout. It’s still fairly clean, except for what’s lurking in the shadows.

2 Responses to “We’re drowning in trash”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Let’s not overlook the pick up truck – perhaps the drivers don’t realize that the wind forces will move the trash out of the bed of the pick up truck and into the road. Yeah, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

    Personal responsibility and care for the surroundings. It should not be this difficult.

  2. Cathy Switzer Says:

    “Community pride” = Keep California Clean!

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