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Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe: Just pick it up

Our dog Fang is a bit of a magpie.

When he was a puppy, he picked up interesting bits of litter on walks and brought them home. That’s how paper coffee cups and more got partially buried in our flower beds. As he grew, he lost interest in taking things home. He’d carry the litter for a block or two and then drop it.

That made me uncomfortable. I could walk by trash on the sidewalk and the street, but I wasn’t willing to ignore litter when my dog moved it around.

Fang finds a piece of trash on the ground Thursday near the intersection of Crescent Street and Thomas Street in Denton.Jeff Woo/DRC
Fang finds a piece of trash on the ground Thursday near the intersection of Crescent Street and Thomas Street in Denton.
Jeff Woo/DRC

It wasn’t that I didn’t ever pick up litter. Our old dog Gus liked to take walks in the drainage channel behind the house. I pick up litter in the channel regularly.

Our drainage channel leads directly to a retention pond that slowly releases the storm water into the creeks and rivers that fill Lewisville Lake. In other words, anything lying in the channel behind my house was essentially heading to the lake.

A city drainage crew clears the channel of branches and leaves and sediment several times a year, but not often enough to pick up the trash and recyclables that would wash away with each storm. 

I didn’t like leaving empty tobacco lids, water bottles and beer cans in a place that’s part of our family’s drinking water supply.

With short walks in the drainage channel, I can manage carrying a few things home to put in the trash can. 

Fang claims an empty can of Dr Pepper. Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe/DRC
Fang claims an empty can of Dr Pepper. 
Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe/DRC

But for long walks along the street, I started taking an extra bag for litter. (I always take a few old newspaper bags for Fang’s business.)

I didn’t limit myself to things Fang picked up and dropped. I just started picking up whatever we walked by. After all, streets and gutters drain into the storm sewers, too.

There's often a lot of trash. Some weeks when I haul the trash can to the curb, there’s more garbage and recyclables from our walks than from our  own house.

Picking up litter brings other rewards besides knowing that I’m helping my family's water supply downstream.

Fang found himself several balls for backyard play. I’ve lost count of how many wayward nails and screws I’ve kept from my neighbor’s and my own tires. I brought home an abandoned six-pack of pale ale with four bottles completely intact (pick a better place to party, kids) and other perfectly good items I’ve put to use in the garden or garage. And I’ve found $11 in cash so far.

As I’ve gotten to know my neighborhood in this new way, I can see that other neighbors are picking up litter, too. That’s heartening. A week ago, one neighbor stopped her walk to ask if I was picking up litter. She said she was going to start picking up litter, too, since it would help the neighborhood look better.

Denton, Dallas, Fort Worth and the Tarrant Regional Water District are partners in an anti-litter campaign called Ten on Tuesday (Dallas leases some of the Lewisville Lake water rights to Denton). You can take the pledge to pick up 10 pieces of trash every Tuesday at Nearly 24,000 North Texans have taken the pledge. The program asks for just four pieces of information on the pledge form that they keep confidential: your first and last name, your ZIP code and your email address. They occasionally email information about anti-litter events in your area, like the Great American Cleanup and Stream Clean organized by Keep Denton Beautiful.

Or, you can keep it simple. Just grab a bag on your next walk and help keep a few things from heading downstream.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881.

FEATURED PHOTO: Litter catches on a fence in a retention pond near the Rayzor Ranch shopping center.
DRC file photo