Litter is a significant problem in Detroit. Kids could be the solution

Journalist Rukiya Colvin explores how Detroiters are tackling the city’s trash issue in their latest piece for Planet Detroit.

Photo credit: Bre'Anna Tinsley/WDET

Springtime in Detroit means daffodils and apple trees are blooming, birds are returning – and plastic bags, bottles, pizza boxes and fast food containers blow across roads, yards, sidewalks and highways. As the snow melts and the wind picks up, litter becomes a major issue.

“It feels like I’ve become kind of numb to it,” says journalist Rukiya Colvin. “I would hear [my son] in the backseat saying, ‘Look, there’s trash!’ and it just brought something to my attention. That made me say, ‘Let’s really look into what’s being done and how people feel about it, and how we can work toward a cleaner city.’”

In a recent article for Planet Detroit, Colvin takes a look at some of the reasons why trash in the city is an issue and some of the folks who are doing something to help it. Natalie Jakub of Green Living Science is one of these people.

Colvin says she found it fascinating how parents would tell Jakub that their kids would shame them for throwing trash out the window. She cites the kids’ honesty as a catalyst for families to start a dialogue about what environmental behaviors they are comfortable with. The parents also said the program influenced their kids significantly.

“Parents will come back to her as a testimonial and say like, ‘Oh, yeah, my kid enjoys that we’re doing recycling projects,’ and that they are teaching them what to do with their waste. Or, ‘My kid actually said something to me when, you know, I threw something out the window.’ So I thought that was interesting and it speaks to how our children are a prominent piece of shaping the change that we need to see in the world and they shouldn’t be underestimated or overlooked.”

“Our children are a prominent piece of shaping the change that we need to see in the world and they shouldn’t be underestimated or overlooked.” – Rukiya Colvin

For their article, they also talked to Doug Collins, superintendent of solid waste for the City of Detroit, about the city’s efforts to get a handle on this problem of trash being let loose in the city. They were surprised to learn that even though the city collects hundreds of thousands of tons of waste every year, much of it still goes uncollected.

“I think of neighborhoods that are divested or I think about people who have said, ‘Trash collection and recycling collection was missed on my block, because there is a very dense area.’ So on one hand, it’s great that they have this campaign that they’re doing where they want to educate folks more through mailings and billboards … but I, as a hands-on person, tend to think about how effective that really is.”

Colvin proposes that meaningful change starts with more community involvement.

“There just needs to be better partnership and thinking those things through versus just talking at them through mailings and billboards. I don’t think people think to look at those things.”

Listen: Journalist Rukiya Colvin explores how Detroiters are working toward a cleaner city



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  • Amanda LeClaire

    Amanda LeClaire is Host of CultureShift and is a founding producer of both of WDET's locally-produced daily shows. She's been involved in radio and the arts in Detroit for over a decade.