Cooke: Littering is thoughtless, contributes to greater issue

Cody Cooke

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

A couple of days ago I was waiting between classes on a bench outside of Clark C when I watched a man smoke the last of his cigarette, drop the smoldering butt on the ground, stomp on it and then walk away. This kind of carelessness is not reserved only to smokers, and it is certainly not an isolated episode. Littering is another kind of pandemic.


Littering is an ever-present problem that shouldn’t be a problem in the first place since it is entirely a matter of personal choice. Granted, Fort Collins isn’t drowning under a sea of garbage, but the behavior itself is never, in any place, acceptable and always, everywhere, worthy of condemnation. The bottom line is that it’s inconsiderate to purposely drop your garbage anywhere other than a trash can.

First of all, it’s ugly. Nobody wants to look at Styrofoam cups or plastic chip bags in bushes and on sidewalks. Back home in Louisiana, littering on major roadways was so bad that my friends and I would joke that the state flower might as well be fast-food to-go containers.

Further, it puts wildlife in extreme danger. Just looking at water alone, plastic trash, when not disposed of properly, can affect animals and their habitats. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “It has been estimated that plastic marine debris adversely affects at least 267 species globally, including 86% of sea turtles, 44% of seabirds and 43% of marine mammals.”

These are just the effects on a few marine animals. A sharp edge on a glass bottle or an aluminum can seriously endanger an unsuspecting animal. A plastic bag can easily suffocate an animal it comes into contact with. Animals are an essential part of ecosystems, and by endangering them, we endanger the natural systems our planet was created with. 

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about littering is that it is totally avoidable. If you’re within City limits, there is certainly a trash can nearby. Even if there isn’t, put the trash in your pocket. It’s yours, and you are responsible for it.

Don’t we try to keep our own homes clean and free of loose garbage? Aren’t we diligent enough to pick up trash if it winds up in our own front yards? If so, then why are we OK with tossing down trash in a public setting? Has our super-sensitive individualism really desensitized us to the point of indifference?

“Littering is the quintessential act of a horribly materialistic culture that is utterly disconnected from the natural world and totally inconsiderate of the consequences of its choices.”

If simply the sight of litter doesn’t make us cringe, then we should seriously reevaluate where our priorities lie in this consumer-based, plastic-wrapped market-ecosystem we inhabit.

One of my fellow columnists at The Collegian, Corinne Neustadter, wrote an article about the historical roots of consumer waste.

“The accumulation of waste and its presence in American society could be viewed as … a parallel to the rise of capitalism in the United States,” Neustadter wrote. I couldn’t agree more.

Littering is the quintessential act of a horribly materialistic culture that is utterly disconnected from the natural world and totally inconsiderate of the consequences of its choices. The words wasteful and inconsiderate barely begin to describe people who don’t think twice about leaving their trash on public ground for everyone to see.


Some say don’t judge people so quickly, but if I see someone litter, I feel justified in judging them as careless, thoughtless and just plain lazy. Carrying your own trash and making sure it ends up where it should is not an undue burden, it is basic decency.

This summer I took a trip up to Vedauwoo Recreation Area near Cheyenne, Wyoming, for a day of separation from the city. While I was walking through the wild pines and blankets of leaves and needles, I saw a bright orange object on the forest floor. When I picked it up, I found that it was a half-full Gatorade bottle.

I kept that plastic bottle, and it sits in my room today as a physical reminder that human negligence truly has touched every inch of the globe. It reminds me that a cleaner world won’t be a reality until each and every one of us decides that it is always worth our energy to pick up and keep track of our own trash.

Cody Cooke can be reached at or on Twitter @CodyCooke17.