Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009 | Expanding municipal trash service in Mexico will do little to solve the litter problem unless it is coupled with public education.

I believe the problem is, in part, a cultural issue. For example, take my old neighborhood, Grant Hill. For the most part, the blocks around my house are occupied by hard working, lower income Latino families. Despite San Diego’s weekly trash service, litter is simply discarded on the street. A vacant lot across the street from me often hosted discarded furniture; sofas, defunct console televisions, garbage bags of trash which were quickly ripped open and dispersed by stray dogs.

I lived in one house on a two house lot. My neighbors in the front worked to keep their area nice, planting lawns, rose bushes and ground cover. I worked hard to establish a garden in the back, in what had been a weedy, trash infested dump full of old lumber, broken glass and discarded auto parts.

It was a nice little haven, well appreciated by our neighbor up the hill next door, who have a well maintained property. We became one of the few properties on the street with nice, well-maintained yards.

When my neighbors moved back to Washington state, a new family moved in. They were pleasant and friendly, spoke little English, and did not grasp the concept of litter. Soon, trash from their household was finding its way into my yard. They tossed used disposable diapers out their bathroom window onto our driveway. Plastic bags, fast food wrappers and other detritus quickly accumulated. They dumped their full ashtrays onto the driveway. Occasionally someone would make an effort with the diapers. It was disgusting.

This is how people live in Mexico. People would park on our street to clean out their cars, shoveling all their trash onto the street. Parents coming to pick up their children at the elementary school across the street would just throw garbage out of their cars in front of my house.

What a contrast to my friends’ neighborhood in the University area. Old, restored Craftsman homes line immaculate streets. Elderly neighbors who can’t do too much yard work are assisted by other residents.

Clearly, if you wish to address the trash problem, you must also educate people. Studies have shown that, in areas where litter and graffiti is a problem, people quit trying to correct the problem, and the area continues to degrade.

Clean it up, and people begin to take pride in their neighborhood. However, where it’s acceptable to simply toss trash onto the street, clearly an effort must also be made to raise awareness of the problem. Increased trash pickup service is certainly a good idea, but it’s worthless unless the people take advantage of it.

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