And they shall know us by our trash

I have heard it said that one can tell a whole lot about people by studying their trash. If that?s the case, the three boys from Hillsboro High School?s Tech?nology Student Association who walked a two-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 56 Saturday morning received a great education.

Chapter adviser Creigh Bell and I supervised the spring cleanup. He took one young man to cover one mile near Lehigh. I took the other two for a walk along the ditches of a different mile, starting west and then coming back east over the same 5,280 feet.

It?s not the first time we?ve made this trek. In fact, this hike marked the third time this school year. I have been along for all three, but I don?t remember encountering anything close to the variety of items we bagged on Saturday?s mission.

Sure, there was the usual smattering of road kill. We are instructed by the Kansas Department of Transportation to leave dead animals alone. If we find something large, like a deer, we are to notify the department. Otherwise, I guess the smaller animals will just become fertilizer.

Most of what we pick up is of the non-organic variety. Plastic pop bottles seem to lead the list. Many are the 20-ounce variety. When they have lids in place, they are quite hard to stab with our custom-made litter sticks. The bottles tend to roll away when jabbed.

Unfortunately, some of them contain substances that look suspiciously unlike soda. Even more unfortunately, sometimes we stab them before we realize they contain fluid. Let?s just say the contents are not something you want to get on your clothing or your exposed skin.

Without getting too graphic, I believe it is safe to say there are still tobacco chewers in the county. It?s also accurate to surmise some people don?t want to take time to stop at the proper facilities when nature calls and find bottles handy for the task. Naturally, they can?t take the time to properly dispose of the contents.

The second most popular item of roadside rubbish is the aluminum can. Original contents range from Pepsi to Red Bull to Natural Light to Slim Fast. These are the most fun to pick up with our pointy sticks. The thin metal is no match for a quick jab. They are usually empty, so surprises are rare.

No. 3 on the list are the remains of tires that have disintegrated. We found a couple of yard-long strips of tread Saturday. The biggest problem with these pieces is their sheer bulk. They don?t fit into our five-gallon buckets very well, and they tend to tear the blue trash bags that we fill for KDOT to pick up.

I?ve seen lots of rubber rubbish on the road, but I?ve never actually seen a tire come apart. Judging from the distances they seem to be flung, I probably wouldn?t want to be a witness, especially if I were on a bicycle at the time.

The rest of the trash we found was a mixture of cigarette packages, cups made of plastic and Styrofoam, soda straws, cardboard, roofing material, insulation, nylon baling twine, odd iron plates and rings, muffler pieces and the occasional compact disk.

Sometimes we find something of value. Saturday, I stabbed at a Cold Stone Creamery gift card before I realized what it was. I picked it up and took it home, where I discovered by punching in the number in my computer it still had $6 left to be spent on a Mother?s Day outing to Wichita.

I found a flower-covered Hawaiian costume bra, still in its original packaging. Naturally I had to wear it outside my orange vest for the rest of the morning. One of the guys picked up a couple of Hawaiian hair clips to complete the ensemble.

Somebody?s party somewhere was a bit less spectacular than expected. We found a Guitar Hero game disk, though I doubt it was functional. I also found a nickel on the shoulder.

So, what does all this trash tell us about the people who either reside in or pass through Marion County on U.S. Highway 56?

For one thing, it indicates that lots of people get away with transporting open containers of alcoholic beverages. It confirms that people don?t do as good a job as they imagine tying down the materials they are hauling, whether to a new home somewhere or to the landfill.

It lets us know that some who hit the road are lazy and selfish and don?t care about the environment around them. Marion County must look like one big Hefty Cinch Sack to them.

We learn that a significant number of people still smoke, still chew and have bladder control issues. We can also see that there remain at least a handful of high school students who care enough about keeping our county clean to spend their Saturday morning tidying up a small corner of their world.

And that?s more valuable than even a $6 ice cream card.