Why am I thinking about litter bugs, (it can be one word or two) you ask. My Israeli friend’s nephew and his buddies visited Panama a few weeks ago and reported at home that they were not impressed. The reason given was ‘too much trash on the streets.’ When I first started to visit Panama City, I stayed on fashionable Balboa Avenue where one would not expect to see litter. This is a high-rent avenue that welcomes lots of tourists to its hotels and so it makes sense that the city and the Balboa Avenue housing and business organizations would want to keep up a sparkling clean image. This is true anywhere, I think.
When I rented, I moved to Obarrio, which is the banking area of town where one of its major streets is Via España, Spain Street. Lots of streets are named after countries here because of the multitudinous embassies which deal with international banking and governmental relations with the Panama Canal. I admit that in this neighborhood I noticed a lot of trash on the streets. Anyway, to answer your question, this made me think about litter bugs.
It has been suggested that littering in America started after World War II. These post-war golden years produced lots of products and Americans, with rising incomes and fatigue from ration cards, apparently splurged and then started to litter. Who have thought to have trash bins on street corners? It was a time apparently when people wouldn’t think twice about unwrapping a piece of chewing gum and throw the wrappings to the ground.
The interstate highway system was initiated by the famous and well-regarded WWII general, President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953. It was not long thereafter that litter was thrown by the wayside on the highways and the litterbug campaign later developed in the early 1960s. I’m sure many people remember the days when you received a complimentary plastic litter bag that was typically hung on the car door’s window cranks. All litter bags were sponsored for advertising purposes.
Eventually, the nation became aware of litter bugs and made efforts to stamp them out. In fact, Lady Bird Johnson appealed to the nation and to congress to embark on a ‘beautification project.’ She encouraged people to become more aware of their environment whether it be in the city or in the country. Her efforts brought forward a strong consciousness about littering and litter bugs became socially unacceptable. ‘Don’t be a litter bug!”
While efforts have paid off and litter bugs have been shamed into a near non-existence, there seems to be a resurgence. Maybe we need to be retrained or shamed? Remember the shaming (not once but twice) done by Felix Unger to Oscar Madison in the opening credits of the sit-com ‘The Odd Couple?
I guess littering and trash are problems in most places around the world. Social awareness seems to be downgrading as of late and so it would make sense that nobody should be able to tell you not to litter or to pick up after your dog or to wear a mask or to not spit or to not disturb the peace and the list goes on. I am reminded of a friend in Israel who was dining in a restaurant. The server came by and cleaned a table by wiping the table crumbs to the floor. My friend said, “That’s disgusting and I have to see that while I’m eating.” The server quickly responded, “I have to look at it all day!” I repeat, “Don’t be a litter bug!” and I’ll close by reminding you of yet another vintage anti-litter campaign slogan, “Every litter bit hurts!”