Edward Strickler: Farmville deals with ‘the case of the telltale litter’

Published 7:37 am Wednesday, January 31, 2024

There is a lot of litter around Farmville. Maybe most people don’t ‘see’ it. But once my husband and I started ‘seeing’ it everywhere, we started picking it up. And we found out that trash tells tales.

What people waste, throw out as trash, litter, flush away, tells many tales. Ancient puzzles have been solved by finds in waste heaps. Police find clues to help solve crimes in trash. Public health science examines waste to help law enforcement detect trends in illicit drug use and to help psychiatric care detect overuse of opioid painkillers and anti-depression drugs in the ‘sewershed’. Littering makes our neighborhoods part of the ‘sewershed’. Sounds nasty, right? Perhaps we’d agree that littering is nasty.

My husband and I started 2023 with a new project: picking up litter on our nearly daily walks through Farmville. Our experience through the year gave us stories to tell: whodunits like ‘the case of the tattletale litter’, ‘The mystery of the forlorn photos’, and ‘The sayings of the sepulchral sage’. As well as some proverbs like ‘Absence makes the litter grow larger’ and ‘litter can tell a tale you don’t like’. Learning about waste is not wasted effort (pardon the poor pun).

Email newsletter signup

Who is littering? We don’t know: we never actually saw someone littering. But people are, everywhere, everyday. We walked and picked up litter in many different areas of the town, along business routes and in residential areas, from the 460 bypass at the south end of Farmville to the 460 business route at the north end of town, and beyond that we walked and picked up litter throughout the Cumberland County neighborhoods of Farmville. Many of these are neighborhoods that do not have much through traffic. So, local people are littering too!

Breaking down the Farmville numbers

Through 2023 we picked up on average 8-10 cubic feet of trash per week, amounting to over 17 cubic yards (1 cubic yard = 3ft x 3ft x 3ft = 27 cubic feet ). So, what we picked up would overfill 4 standard ‘4 cubic yard’ dumpsters. Speaking of dumpsters we discovered that user friendliness and proper maintenance matters. For example, not closing the side sliding door contributes to litter strewn around by wind, squirrels, racoons, or – if they exist – any local Oscar the Grouches (who live in trash bins). I’ve called out ‘Oscar, show yourself!’ but we’ve no encounters so far).

Dumpster user training may be needed at numerous locations around town. If you want to know, ask us when you see us. What do people litter? The largest contributor to volume is things people drink from (bottles, cans, cups, etc.). Bottles and cans in some overgrown vacant lots could fill a trash truck. It’s easy to find the owners with the Town’s GIS mapping. Some are absentee owners; so are local owners who apparent are holding property without taking care of the property, establishing the validity of the proverb ‘Absence makes the litter grow larger’. 

Did you know that the Oddfellows Cemetery has an impressive collection of memorials, including important memorials from Virginia’s Reconstruction period and from World War I? Vacant lots nearby appear to have a legacy of waste that may go back to World War 1; something seems wrong about that, doesn’t it? Another high volume category is take-out food waste. Among the favorites: Wendy’s and Arby’s, Bojangles and Cookout.

Finding some tattletale litter

Sometimes we’ve found trails of tattletale litter: trails of beer cans beside Westview Cemetery (can someone drink and discard 5 or 6 cans in the minute at most it takes to pass the cemetery?), trails of BudLight cans and bottles on Williams Street (consistently enough to wonder who is going to work, or coming home from work, drunk), a trail of SlimJim wrappers on Vernon Street (note: the SlimJim packaging says that it ‘contains soy’; that’s not meat), trails of Fireball Cinnamon whiskey bottles on various downtown streets, a trail of Good Times Black Smooth Fine Pipe Tobacco Cigars (both peach, and mango), etc.

Another category of frequent litter is things people use for a nicotine fix: vaping contraptions, cigarette packs (Kool seems to be popular), Swisher Sweets packages, packets from using snus/dip/snuff, and of course cigarette butts (but butts are usually too hard, and too many, to pick up so we don’t).

People also seem to keep piles of Virginia Lottery tickets only to throw them all out together, like confetti: are they celebrating a win? or reacting in anger for losing? Speaking of losing money: we found a sum total of $15.01. A 10 dollar bill and a 5, and a penny. Is it yours? Let us know.

Edward Strickler (and husband James Schneider) retired to Farmville in 2020 but had visited Farmville many times over the years to enjoy local state parks. Edward is retired from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and is one of the most reliable advocates for rural health in the American Public Health Association. He volunteers locally with the Piedmont Health District and nationally with Braver Angels. He can be reached at edwardnvirginia@hotmail.com.