What do beaches, broken windows and your bedroom have in common?

posted by Lauren January 18, 2016 0 comments

I picked up someone else’s trash today.

It was one single plastic cup left over in the debris of low tide in Ton Sai, Thailand. Low tide can yield some pretty incredible treasures such as tide pools: once hidden sea life now in full view. It also reveals humans capacity for consumption. Whatever was left on the beach or tossed in the ocean is washed ashore for all to see as the tide ebbs.

It also reveals humans capacity for consumption.

Ton Sai is built entirely on tourism, therefore, there is a huge amount of consumption that occurs during the high season (thanks to the prevalence of take away Styrofoam food boxes and plastic cups for the ubiquitous coconut shake). Considering how much waste is produced by the flocks of party hearty travelers that swarm the tiny village of Ton Sai, I will say that Ton Sai itself is remarkably well kept.

This is what all beaches should look like: clean

This is what all beaches should look like: clean

I link this phenomenon to the Broken Widow Theory.

This is an academic theory proposed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in 1982 that used broken windows as a metaphor for disorder within neighborhoods. Their theory links disorder and incivility within a community to subsequent occurrences of serious crime. (McKee) The idea is that if someone were to see that broken window, they might assume no one cared much about the area. This may lead them to graffiti the building or break another window or steal from a nearby car.

The small increase in crime would pave the way for others to follow suit, thus exacerbating what was once an easily solved problem. If, however, you were to go in and fix that window and clean that graffiti, it would increase the overall appearance of the area. This in turn would likely decrease the prevalence of petty crime which may lead to violent crime, thus increasing the overall well-being of the immediate environment. With this theory in mind, I can connect not only how we view broken windows and trash on beaches but how we relate within our own individual homes.

Think about your bedroom. Is it a tad on the messy side? Is it overflowing with weeks worth of laundry and last night’s Chinese takeout? Or, is it pretty tidy, with the windows open to allow fresh air in?

The environment that you find yourself in has enormous ramifications on your overall wellbeing. It can be something of a snowball effect. If you choose not to pick up yesterday’s clothes casually tossed in the corner, then, what’s the big deal about leaving one dirty coffee cup on your desk? Well, once those few items start to build up, you begin to perceive cleaning your room as this monumental task (I’ve been there.)

This ties back into the Broken Window Theory: once one window is broken, it seems harder and harder to keep the rest of the neighborhood in good condition. This, in turn, relates to that single plastic cup I found on Ton Sai beach and consciously chose to nip the Broken Window Theory in the bud. The proverbial ounce of prevention to circumvent the pound of cure is what broken windows, litter, and your room have in common.

Water and air: the two essential elements on which all life depends, have become global trash cans.Jacques Cousteau

So what does me picking up one plastic cup left over from someone’s fun night really do? The truth is, very little. One wee little plastic cup is most certainly not going to save the world from climate change, cure cancer or solve global food insecurity. But, perhaps it will:

  • provide an incentive for that other tourist that saw me pick it up to do the same
  • cause the cool kids sneaking a cigarette down the beach to think twice about flicking the butt into the ocean
  • or maybe, it will just give me the warm and tinglies for taking a small, actionable step towards what I deem important.

One way or another, it did some good somehow. And that is something I am willing to pick up someone else’s trash for.


How would picking up someone else’s trash affect you today?

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