Other’s Opinion: Cleaning up after others shouldn’t be a rite of spring

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The Free Press, Mankato

As most of us warmly welcome the recent melting of snow and ice, we also face the ugly truth about our bad habits.

Litter laces our lakes, riverbanks, parks and street gutters. The spring unveiling of trash is not unexpected and not unique to this year, but that doesn’t make the problem any more acceptable.

Spring and the snowmelt reveal everything from the debris left behind after ice-house removal from lakes to the piles of dog feces along trails. Fast-food wrappers chucked in parking lots instead of into the public trash can 25 feet away is a common eyesore. Empty liquor bottles, cigarette butts, pop cans, plastic jugs and other garbage line curbs throughout city streets.

And for the last two years, masks have been a far too common litter addition. Masks have been discarded in parks, parking lots and boulevards with no chance of biodegrading. Why would you expect anyone else to pick up your used face mask during a pandemic?

Every year crews of volunteers roam roadsides, riverbanks and recently lake ice to pick up after people who don’t care what they leave in their wake. Volunteers from the Madison Lake Watershed and Lake Association spent an evening last week collecting trash left on the lake during ice-fishing season that included cans, insulation, wood blocks, nets, a bag that contained minnows and more.

Although lake wind can inadvertently carry items away or freeze them to the ice surface, much of what’s left behind appears to be on purpose. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer Mikeena Mattson described to MPR News the variety of debris found after winter fishing: “Just common garbage — you know, the waste that you produce throughout your day. Food waste, boxes from beverages or whatever it might be, human waste, animal waste, fish carcasses — stuff like that.”

So the same people who are trying to catch dinner in the lakes are leaving behind human and animal waste. Where exactly do they think it’s going to end up?

Not only is water quality a concern when all of that debris gets left behind, the DNR officer said, but it can harm fish, birds and other aquatic life.

Seems that if a truck is big enough to haul off an ice house, it should also be able to carry a bag of garbage. Ice-house owners whose units include sinks and toilets also need to drain their gray and black water tanks in public dump stations — not on the ice.

It’s not only the law to not litter or dump sewage, it’s good sportsmanship. Cleaning up after yourself is what children learn early in life. Adults who disregard basic individual responsibility need to reconnect with that societal expectation. Doing your share makes the public outdoor spaces better places for everyone.