Because You Are Polite

by Ginger Philbrick

This May I had the honor of attending my grandson’s Lancaster High School graduation. At the conclusion of the ceremony we all filed off the football bleachers to exit the event. I was shocked to see so many empty water bottles and trash left behind in the stands. I just can’t believe adults attending a wonderful event would mar it by thinking it was alright to leave behind their litter. I also wonder if our youth are being taught that it is not acceptable.

Jackie in Wake

Dear Jackie:

I immediately think of one of Sesame Street’s beloved characters, Oscar the Grouch. Oscar replies “Yuck” to the love that he says everyone on the Street talks about; he loves trash–not so much people. 

Like you, I have been affronted by Rubbish Realities this summer. With disgust, I recall garbage strewn byways, recently chewed gum in a wrapper left on the sidewalk, and looking over a sea of plastic and paper debris as I crunched across a carpet of peanut shells that had been left by “devoted” fans after a baseball game. Parking lots, golf courses, hiking trails, restrooms, theaters and beaches are all subject to abuse by discarded paper, plastic and even personal clothing. That last one kick-starts the imagination!

There was a motto in my scouting days: “Carry it in, Carry it out.” It’s so simple. Most public places have handy trash receptacles, but if one is not available, it is little to ask that we hold onto our refuse until we find one, or get to our car. Local towns and private event management often spend thousands of dollars for trash clean-up and you can be sure that the cost is eventually covered by higher taxes and ticket prices.

Apparently, Jackie, there is a huge need for anti-littering advocacy in our homes, in our schools, and in the public arena generally. Leaving trash behind is an affront to those who come after us, a sign that we do not care much about them or the environment we leave for them. To you who keep your trash to yourself until correctly disposed of, I remind you that in doing so you often serve as an example for the person following you, and I thank you for keeping my step safer.

I have always loved Oscar. He is perfectly within his right to love trash, but even he doesn’t toss it around Sesame Street.

Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at