Dear PoP

“Three nights ago, I yelled at a man throwing a beer bottle in our yard. He came back, picked it up, and then threw it on the other side of the street. Yesterday I spotted a lone teenager picking it up, checking to see if anybody was watching, and then smashing it in the intersection and waiting for cars to run over it. I know of no good solution other than a hard push for more public trash cans. Ideas?

Dear No Good Solution,

This is indeed a very tough situation. If a guy threw a beer bottle in my yard I’d have to “size” up the guy for my response. I know this isn’t going to be a happy answer but nine times out of ten I’d probably just pick up the bottle myself and throw it out. I know the reaction you had though. It certainly would piss me off. But you just have to measure what will you get out of yelling at the guy vs. very deliberately walking outside and picking up the bottle. Or you could say as you are picking up the bottle “you know I really don’t appreciate that” or something like that. I know this may sound a bit like punking out but I really don’t think it is. It’s like not getting into a bar fight when you are totally in the right and “justified”. You know if someone insults you, you can have some words, you can fight or you can ignore it. Again, nine times out of ten it is better to be the more mature person and do the bigger thing, which is not fighting or in this case just picking up the bottle. Of course, if the guy seems reasonable, then you can talk to him. But if he is a drunk or a thug, yelling at him is going to do nobody any good. And if you just pick up the bottle, this of course would solve the second problem.

As for the teenager who busted the bottle. Well, he’s a teenager. Unfortunately that is sometimes what teenagers do. I know I was no angel as a teenager, and as embarrassed as I am to admit it, some of my very good friends busted a few bottles of their own back in the day. Of course if you know the teenager you could try talking to him. But all in all I think the solution in the future is to just pick up the bottle and throw it out yourself. It’s kind of a disappointing answer but I think it’s probably best.

Do you guys agree or disagree?

47 Comment

  • Definitely agree. I particularly like how you put it as, “deliberately walking outside and picking up the bottle.” If the person sees your actions and has any conscience, he/she will certainly feel guilty for having someone else pick up after them and will probably think twice before doing it again in the future.

  • I once witnessed a woman purposely throw a piece of trash down the drain, so I politely explained to her how when people throw trash in the gutter, it ends up in our water ways such as Rock Creek, The Potomac and Anacostia River.

    Her response was…… “SO What?”

    Again in vain, I continued to explain that trash was bad for the environment and unsightly bla, bla, bla.

    Again her response was……”So?”

    Again, I went on about how volunteers work tirelessly to clean up the trash.

    Her response was, “So? That’s what they are there for”

    At that point, I realized that she was a lost cause and only cared about her immediate needs and could not care less about how her actions affected others around her.

  • I agree with you, PoP. I don’t think your solution is a cop-out at all. That said, there’s also no harm in urging the city to offer more public trash cans.

  • The attitude described in mjbrox is sadly more the rule than the exception of too many people in the neighborhood. How wonderful things would be if just half of them developed a conscience.

  • the other day I had a run in with a woman and her son (who was about 4 years old) as I was walking my dog down Irving Street. as they approched me the son stopped to pet the dog and then proceeded to drop a piece of paper on the ground that had been in his hand. I said, “you dropped something”, and as he was looking at me and about to pick it up his mother shouted at him to come along. when I turned to her to say that he had dropped something and that he should pick it up she began to yell at me that she pays taxes and a mortgage just like me and that her son picks up when he’s at home. I didn’t really understand what this had to do with the piece of garbage being left on the ground. she yelled and cursed at me and then told me that I should be more concerned with picking up my dogs sh*t. I realized that there was no way for me to have a rational conversation with this woman, and that her son would learn more from her anger then from me, a stranger on the street.

  • I see people all the time toss bags of trash out their window on to the street…just cannot understand where people are coming from. But they so clearly don’t care that yelling at them is not going to do any good. I am just vigilant about keeping the trash picked up around my yard (and sometimes along the way to the metro). All you can do is set an example.

  • If this was a residential street, you’ll never get a city can…If it’s a comined residential/ business zoned street, you could push to get one, but they don’t put them on strictly residential streets (unless there is a park) there. Doesn’t hurt to try, but it would take more effort than just requesting one.

  • Sad truth is that most people in they city don’t care about litter. I seen all ages of people do it. There is an apartement building on Ft Totten Drive where people through their bags onto the adjacent vacant lot from the top floors. Anyone remember the anti-littering add from the 70’s with the Native American with a tear in his eye? I have taken to daydreaming schemes to start fining these people – using video camera’s and sting operations with $500 tickets. Bottom line is there is not a lot you can do to stop it other than an Iraq type surge of anti litter police.

    I see this as part of the pathos of the inner city. It is in the schools, on the metro, in the goverment, etc.

    So sad.

  • It’s not just the neighborhood, it’s upbringing. I once picked up trash I saw a woman drop intentionally in the hallway of our office building and did the whole “excuse me, I believe you dropped something” and she just walked away. Ugh, it happens everywhere.

  • Oh, see, and here I thought I had some sort of urban broken glass tree in my back yard that continually dropped shards into my yard by the back gate. Who knew?

  • i cant understand why someone wouldnt have enough pride in their community and streets not to just throw trash out at stop signs.. if you were to catch this sort of behavior on tape, as well as a clear shot of their license plate, would the dc popo give out a ticket for it? sort of like a citizens arrest?

    if nothing else, i usually get some sort of satisfaction by fantasizing about whipping out a paintball gun and plastering the persons face/vehicle/kid/whatever with some bright blue mark of the cristobal beast! then i just smile as i pick up their stupid litter and put it in a trashcan…ugh

  • If you see a business owned vehicle have trash fly out of its window, you can complain to the company usually through the website. I saw a UPS driving throw a can out of his truck so I wrote an email to the company and I was called later that day to give more details about the truck, the license number, etc. Unfortnately I did not have this information as the truck turned off the road I was driving before I could get it. I was very surprised and happy with the response of UPS however.

    I think in that in the case with people in your community that litter, it stems from people not really knowing their neighbors as well as they used to in the past. It used to be that neighbors were the kind of people that when they saw teens misbehaving they would punish the kid and then tell the kid’s parents who would then punish the kid again. Now if you even talk to a kid in front of their parent it is often the case the parent tells you off for talking to their kid like that.

    I bet that the people who litter are probably the first people to complain that they live in a neighborhood that looks like a dump and that everything looks dirty and no one cares about them.

  • Seems like the original poster was worried about two separate problems: the problem of loose trash/broken glass on the street, and the question of what to do/say about people who litter.

    A real commitment to your street — a level of commitment that I haven’t yet obtained for my own street — requires that you go over and pick up the bottle during the *three days* that it sits across the street from you. It doesn’t take a careless teenager to turn a loose bottle into broken glass; entropy will do it.

    As for confronting people who litter, I agree with PoP that it’s a function of who you’ll be confronting. I’ve done it occasionally, and I’ve also declined to do it. One thing that really cheeses me off is people in cars, especially with Maryland or Virginia tags, throwing their trash in my neighborhood. I will almost always say something to them.

  • I don’t think it has anything to do with not knowing neighbors. Petworth is a pretty established neighborhood. There are few parental authority figures to tell kids its wrong. It sounds like the adults are as bad as the kids. The schools are a joke when it comes to those kinds of things. I remember when I was a kid and pitched something out of the car. My mom lit into me something fierce! I am glad she did!

  • The other day, while my family and I were riding down New York Avenue, I saw some stuff fly out of a maroon van. As soon as we pulled up next to the van, I looked at the driver, shook my head and my finger at him, and went “tsk-tsk.” These fools seriously don’t care about the damage they’re doing to their communities.

    Last summer, I grabbed gloves, a bunch of bags and one of those picker-upper things and went around cleaning up my neighborhood. Most people were laughing at me—lord forbid a young Black woman actually care about cleaning up the neighborhood. While those idiots laughed, there were others who supported me. A middle-aged man came up to me and commended me, and some man in his car asked if he could help (he was in the straight lane at a red light, so he was really hitting on me as opposed to truly wanting to help). All in all, the positive voices over-powered the negative ones.

  • Unfortunately there is no explanation for the asshats who visit Adams Morgan each weekend and leave their pizza plates and aluminum foil all over the place…not to mention the empty six-packs of beer they drank on their way in from Virginny and Maryland. Ultimately it comes down to the mindset of a lot of folks that someone else will pick it up so it’s not their problem.

  • To answer your question, though, PoP — I disgree, strongly. The problem is that some dirtbag dropped a bottle in the writer’s yard. Not just inconsiderate, but illegal (the littering, not to mention the likely open container violation, if there is such a law on the books in this place). To ignore the source of this problem — a law-breaker making a very conscious decision to litter — is to tacitly accept his action. These neighborhoods are in such a bad way because too many neighbors excuse those who willfully do the wrong thing. Start getting these miscreants ticketed for their trespasses. If they can’t afford a litter fine, chain them together and let them clean the streets.

  • I was successful in getting the city to place 2 trash cans on street corners near my house. I thought that would help alleviate the trash problem, b/c I spend too much time picking up litter from my yard. Didn’t really help though. I now think people litter just to litter, and not because there aren’t enough trash cans.

  • My neighbhorbood is residential, but we’re next to a school (Truesdell). I played up the school angle in my request, and I think that helped persuade the city to set up two additional trash cans.

  • Another thing would be to add recycling deposits to the cost of our beverages. Not only only rarely find bottles and cans thrown out, your recycling bin will be cleaned out before you put it at the curb, especially if you do something like California where the deposit amount is a function of the market for glass and metal and not just a flat fee (like in MI, ME and other states.)

  • I am so glad I don’t live in this area any more. One of the worst parts about it, aside from the very real threat of being murdered for no reason, was all the trash, every day on every block I walked to and from the metro.


  • Unfortunately, I agree with PoP’s advice and those who don’t think placing cans out will make a lick of difference. The posters here all have one thing in common: they were raised with or at some point developed an appreciation that littering is wrong and therefore don’t do it. There’s probably some guilt for them if they inadvertenly have a napkin blow off their lunch table and can’t grab it before it hits the street, or maybe (even better) they hold on to their plastic bottles and cans all day until they can recycle them instead of dumping them in any old trash can that’s available. So it’s natural for them to think that if there are more appropriate places to put trash, or reminders that more appropriate places for trash exist, the trash will end up there more.

    Not so with the litterers. I doubt any of them lack the knoweledge that littering is wrong, but I’ve got to believe it just doesn’t trigger their conscience to be wrong, so they’re shameless about littering. I’ve watched people on my street sweep their trash onto the curb and down gutters in broad daylight in front of me. As long as it’s not inside their gate, it’s OK! I’m more likely to get a dirty look if I stare too long at these times than I am to detect even an ounce of shame about the underlying action. Similarly, there seems to be a preference for illegally dumping trash on a private vacant lot as opposed to illegally dumping it in a private dumpster across the street. (Hey … if you’re going to trespass, do it cleanly!) So sadly, nearly 5 years into my Columbia Heights experience, I no longer think we’re going to conquer trash (or youth violence, or audible public swearing, or public drunkenness … if I want to get real pessimistic and wonder what happened to the idealism of my younger days) by noble attempts to build a community ethos, either through shame or positive reinforcement. I think it’s going to take rigid enforcement of the laws and the attachment of real penalties — economic or otherwise — to shape some people’s actions. There is a cultural gulf between people that isn’t going to be narrowed by the good intentions of others. And since DC government rarely decides to step it up and enforce laws in unpopular ways, I’ve sort of lost the will to do anything but pick up the trash from my own yard and bite my tongue in spite of my rage when I see stuff like this.

  • Christopher – you are on the right track there…instead of Michigan and Maine, think Germany. Every container has a rather hefty deposit on it. They puta .25 Euro deposit on single use containers and lower on things that can be resused. They have these great crushing machines in the grocery stores that they feed the bottle into and it spits back the deposit.

  • i see people drop their trash at our bus stop on columbia rd , even though there is A TRASHCAN at the bus stop sign. no one is ever more than 5 feet away.

  • Guinness- where do you live now?

  • golden silence – i’ve seriously considered this since moving in… where’d you get the picker-upper device? if you ever want a buddy to go out with, i’d be into it!

  • I got mine from my neighborhood hardware store. I’m sure any hardware store has them.

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  • I live across from an alley entrance. Everytime a wind blows or trash day comes my yard fills with garbage. I have the only yard on the block without a fence and want to keep it that way. But we truly are the bermuda triangle for alley trash. Luckily, my neighbor from 11th street collects trash regularly from the surrounding blocks (like every morning). If it wasn’t for her I would be drowning in those black plastic bags from the corner store! I have seen a huge improvement in the last eight years. A new neighbor recently stopped others (myself included) from putting the trash out at their spot when it was easier to do so but created an unsightly mess and health hazard. The crew that sold drugs on the block has all but disappeared to the alley and so has their trash. The amount of trash on the street is 100% better than just a few years ago. I believe things are getting better: when I moved here there were four vacant houses on a block with only seven houses! But all vacant houses(mine included) were renovated and the block has been fully occupied for almost two years. The block is about 50/50 split between owner-occupied houses and renters. It’s true that I don’t know my neighbors by name or as well as I should but I recognize them, say hi, know which cars are theirs and I believe we would all step up to help if needed. Did I mention I just came back from “the mall” (target and marshall’s that is) so I may be experiencing some shopping endorphins.

  • We live on a corner lot with one side on an ally. Despite the fact that when people walk through the ally there are trash cans on one side and our side yard on the other, they choose to throw their trash in our side yard. Unfortunately the availability of trash cans seems to make no difference whatsoever to some people.

  • Join the NRA, we will show you what to do.

  • I now live in beautiful, safe, clean, multi-cultural, metro accessible oakton, virgina.

    Not only can I walk the street at any hour without fear, I can now breathe again without feeling like there’s the weight of fear and disgust bearing down on my chest.

  • Anonymous Says: March 25th, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    I share your idealistic history and present malaise and resignation that the path to change is unfortunately primarily increased and rigorous law-enforcement.

  • GuinnessPhish – The fact that U R you are obviously spending time reading PoP (not just articles but comments, as well) and then needing to share the wonders of Oakton makes one wonder how much U R really enjoying it there. Petworth has A LOT of struggles, but that’s what makes we who live here vital and the fact that we live here important.

  • Anonymous- I have to admit that I wondered the same thing about Guinness. I briefly lived in the paragon of social progress (Virginia…. hahahahaha)-and found it as
    depressing as GP found Petworth. To each his own, as the old cliche goes…

  • I haven’t read all the 34 responses, but it is very sad that the general consensus is for us to sit back and watch other people litter our properties and time and again (because it is not just one bottle), go and pick it up. Some of the adults may be lost cases, but in taking this approach we are also giving up on the kids and therefore contributing to keeping this careless attitude about the neighborhood and the concern and respect for others. I’m not sure what is the right approach, but perhaps if there is a neighborhood council we can work with the schools around us to start a program about keeping Petworth clean and creating conscience about proper trash disposal. Wouldn’t be nice if it ends up with the kids teaching the adults to respect private property and throw trash in the cans?

  • hey, there are 34 responses to this post… thats 34 people (give or take a few repeat posters) that could all band together for one day of community clean up… maybe pop can pick a saturday in april-may, put out the notice on here, and we can all meet and greet somewhere before breaking into groups to clean our part of the city street by street… i think it could be really fun, and ive always wondered what some of you are like in person… how about it pop?

  • oh yeah, that would be a great idea Cristobal! I mean we could all get together and meet at one of those great eating places that PoP has featured on his blog for lunch! Count me in 🙂

  • Community clean ups are great neighborhood events and a lot times you can get the younger kids in the neighborhood to participate and then it becomes a teaching (as long as you don’t lecture) lesson. In this respect, DPW is actually good because they will work with you and provide supplies and make arrangements to come get the filled bags of trash…

  • I hate to be a synic, but we can do a clean up day, and the within 2 days, you will not be able to tell. I have made several posts on this thread, but on my way to work today I watched a guy chug a 24 oz energy drink on at the end of the commuter path in Ft Totten Park and drop the can. He then dropped it on the ground. I point out that he dropped it and suggested he pick it up and throw it away. He completly ingnored me! I just don’t understand.

  • I believe the neighborhoods like the “Golden Triangle” are so nice and clean because of employees who spend their days picking up litter.

  • I’m glad GuinnessPhish moved. I’d rather have to pick up a paper cup than to sense his/her contempt for the neighborhood as I walked by on the street, stood next to him/her at the metro, or waited in line behind him/her at the grocery store.

  • I get what you are saying Steve, but if we all felt that way than we wouldn’t help at all. And yes, we would clean and then it would get dirty again, but it would not be dirt on top of dirt…

    Why mow a yard if it is just going to grow back again? Because we don’t want grass as tall as our house obscuring the property and looking the worst that it possibly can.

  • Sometimes I eat carry out or fast food (Asian salad from McDonald’s is my favorite) in my car. When I’m finished eating, I want to throw the stuff out, as I don’t want to bring it into my house. I may drive through an alley and find an open dumster or a supercan I can throw the stuff out in. Occasionally, I have missed and get out of my car to pick up the trash bag. It would never enter my mind to throw my trash out on the street, in the gutter, on the street corner, or anyplace other than a trash can or dumpster. This is home training, upbringing. My parents would never let me litter and I carry this home training with me to this day. It was just ingained in me. But then again, the other day I heard a 3 year old say, “Shut the f*ck up” so there are many lapses in home training going on.

  • Coincidentally, littering was the topic of one of the segments on Kojo Nnamdi’s show today (3/27) on WAMU. I missed all but the last few minutes but I think you can listen to it from their website. “Taking out the Trash.”

  • “GuinnessPhish – The fact that U R you are obviously spending time reading PoP (not just articles but comments, as well) and then needing to share the wonders of Oakton makes one wonder how much U R really enjoying it there. Petworth has A LOT of struggles, but that’s what makes we who live here vital and the fact that we live here important.”

    The reason I read this blog is because it is a great blog. I enjoy PoP’s perspective, and enjoy reading other people’s comments as well. Make no doubt about it, I love Oakton. Does that mean I have to stop reading this blog?

    No one denies that petworth has a lot of struggles, or that the people who live there are important. I’m not really sure where you got the impression that I think otherwise. For me, the positives of Petworth did not overcome the many negatives.

    Anonymous Said:

    “I’m glad GuinnessPhish moved. I’d rather have to pick up a paper cup than to sense his/her contempt for the neighborhood as I walked by on the street, stood next to him/her at the metro, or waited in line behind him/her at the grocery store.”

    I’m glad I moved too….as I said earlier. I’d rather not to have to pick up a cup AND feel the contempt of many (most) of the native Petworthians as I walked by them on the street (and they spat at my feet) or stood next to me at the metro (and asked me for change and then cursed me when I said “sorry), or waited in line behind them (as they put 30+ items on the 15 items or less “express” lane”.

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