Trash Talk

Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a front-page article on the National Park Service’s “Carry In Carry Out” policy along George Washington Memorial Parkway. According to reporter Elizabeth Williamson, NPS chief groundskeeper Anthony Migliaccio justifies  the program as a way to free up trash haulers to pursue “more noble beautification projects.”

Let’s be honest: The program is a way for the parks to save money.

Carry In Carry Out policies don’t reduce the total amount of trash our society has to handle. They just shift the costs back to people who actually comply—and then to whoever is in charge of the facility where they ultimately dispose of the trash.

During my conference last week at Maumee Bay State Park, I discovered that Ohio has a similar  “program.” During my early morning beach walk, there was nowhere to throw out my coffee cup. So, okay, I carried it back to the lodge and plopped it into a can. I was actually staying at the lodge, so that wasn’t a problem. But now I’m wondering how many day visitors to the park do the same thing. Isn’t it somewhat unfair for the lodge to have higher trash disposal costs because the adjacent state park beach has no trash cans?

The beach at Maumee Bay State Park has no trash cans. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

The beach at Maumee Bay State Park has no trash cans.
Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski

Proponents of the policy will say people should just put their trash in a bag and carry it back home with them. But suppose you’re traveling. Food remains can get quite rank after a while. And if there’s an infant in diapers, the stench of a dirty diaper can cause the whole family to get carsick.

Some people might stomach the stench temporarily until they get to the first gas station or restaurant or other business along the road. Again, the cost is just being shifted to someone else.

Other people would find some other way to toss the trash. Even the NPS’s Migliaccio recanted and replaced a trash can in one area after people put lots of garbage in the area’s Porta Potties. At least he didn’t remove the Porta Potties—although I have to wonder if that crossed his mind.

Parks are public places that attract travelers. Part of the costs for operating those public spaces is providing necessary infrastructure. That includes transportation, water, and sanitation. And I expect that to be included in my taxes and public park fees.

We’re told to “Put litter in its place.” Take away trash cans, and you encourage litter.

The United States has come a long way since the 1970s’ Keep America Beautiful ad campaigns. For my part, I’d prefer that our parks provide services that encourage people to use the parks and keep them clean.

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