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Litter evolution

About 30 years ago, I began noticing a strange litter phenomenon that didn’t seem to have a solution. I noticed it most often on trips to the Mister’s hometown near the Oklahoma border in southeast Kansas. We always drove the same back roads, and in the early years the litter was always in the same place. Plastic trash bags and shopping bags began appearing along the roads — stuck to a barbed wire fence, flapping against naked tree branches in the winter (and spring, summer, and fall, and the following winter), or shredded in a group of head-high lilacs on the lawn of an abandoned homestead site.

They never seemed to disintegrate. They just stayed where they were snagged, wrapping themselves into tight bundles one time and unfurling in a different wind by the time we drove past them on the next trip. I thought they were ugly and a real blight on our rural areas.

I was much younger then and sometimes wondered how long our trip would be if we stopped at each of those places and removed the offending flapping plastic. The Daughters were mere children and might have enjoyed stopping to make those rural roads look once again the way they should. However, it seemed we always were in a hurry and never did that.

Now I rarely see those billowing plastic sacks, the slick black trash bags, or — bigger and better yet — the whole sheets of plastic or even blue tarps that seem to be impaled on all manner of horizontal or vertical fencing, implements, or vegetation. I know they still are there, but I have been looking at them for 30 years. I just don’t see them anymore, you know?

Now I have a new adversary. Drive any county blacktop or gravel road and keep an eye on the side of the road. Did you see that white or pale green heap of something? It might have been in a lump or it might have been spread along the roadside for several yards. It sort of looked like a large tangled fish net. Did you see it?

Not being a person with an agriculture background, I am only venturing a guess here, but I believe that big nasty wad of stuff is the netting that comes off of large round bales of hay. Please let me know if I am wrong — which I could be, I admit. It just looks like that to me.

Now, what I want to know is why? Why is it on the side of the road? Do you gather it up from some feeding area on the back 40 and then it just blows off the back of the truck? I can’t imagine slicing it off the bale along the road so the cattle can “make hay” (so to speak) of the hay just as soon as it is dumped off the truck. And besides, some of the round bales on the ground have only partial netting around them, which leads me to wonder if poor old Bossy is eating that stuff? (Oh, wait — cattle have seven stomachs or something, right? Bossy will be okay.)

Anyway, since I didn’t do anything about the plastic shopping bags when they were only a small problem, I am asking for information about this netting junk while it is only a small problem. I cannot imagine how big a problem the netting will be when it does get to be a big problem. It doesn’t appear to be a bio-degradable item and each pile is a large amount of litter. It gets stuck on the gravel and vegetation at the side of the road and blows around just like the little plastic bags used to do. I don’t want to get to the point where I don’t see it anymore.

By the way, I like hamburger and steak and after more than 40 years in this community, I understand some things about the importance of rural practices. I just don’t like the litter. Maybe we can figure out a way to address this issue.

— SUSAN MARSHALL

Last modified March 21, 2012

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