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There will never be a last word about the litter deposited daily on our streets, in our yards, our city parks, and around our businesses until all begin to fight back.

That is, individuals, whether property owners or not; homeowners, government officials and business owners. It must be a unified effort to defeat the ominous amounts of waste in our environment.

This problem of public litter is a multifaceted one and let me suggest going after one root cause: lack of worker initiative. Too many U.S. businesses have gravitated toward top-down management.

What that means is, if the idea is not put forth by the top people, it does not have value. Employee participation -- initiative -- is not encouraged or welcomed.

Workers quickly learn to do what they are told. Their jobs depend on it. Even young children learn “that is not my job” before they are old enough to hold a job. As a substitute teacher, I recall asking a 4th grade student to please pick up a piece of paper off the floor. His response was, “I didn’t put it there.” I won that sparring match.

Let me call out one local industry to illustrate my point: lawn and landscape companies who are hired to mow public areas around businesses. Keep in mind, not all such businesses demonstrate this failing, but too many do.

Not a daily walk goes by without having to pick up litter of all kinds! Bags are provided from many businesses by the breeze that blows, and I can fill one or two within just a mile’s distance.

What I cannot gather are the thousands of small pieces of trash left on the city allowance around a shopping center after some person just rode the mower over what might have been a dozen pieces of litter before mowing began! It is a prime example of lack of employee initiative.

Say an individual is given a list of sites to mow on a given day. That means, take the riding mower to A, B, C site, turn it on, run it over what grass is there, stop it, load it back up on the trailer, go on to the next place until all on the list are done.

No finish work is done; chopped up trash is everywhere, weeds hang onto the sidewalks and grow out of cracks in the curbing into the gutters. Those weeds invite more litter; they catch tree waste which blocks the flow of rainwater to the storm sewers; storm sewers become blocked and street flooding can result.

How can I say these things with certainty? This morning as I walked on the public sidewalk behind a local shopping center, the remnants of an aluminum beer can (clearly clipped by a mower blade), and the jagged pieces of a heavy plastic 30-pound pail lid were among the items I picked up. Both should have been picked up before mowing!

Aside from worker lack of initiative to do a good job by picking up trash before mowing, trimming the weeds, etc., imagine the condition of the employer’s mower after this kind of abuse over several mowing seasons.

Owning a home or a business is not a right, it is a privilege to be valued and protected. Let businesses return to a work model that both encourages and rewards employee initiative. Every kind of work has value and employees need to meet their employers halfway by taking pride in doing the best job they can, every day!

People need to take the initiative to keep their own properties and their blocks and neighborhoods clean and welcoming.

Caryl Altemus lives in Moline.

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