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Daily News Editorial

By Staff | Apr 22, 2008

Today is Earth Day, the day that since 1970 has been observed as a day to call awareness to environmental issues around the planet.

The first Earth Day coincided with the spring equinox in 1969. The April 22 Earth Day began the following year when Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Washington state proposed that as the date for everyone to work toward bettering the environment. On that day 38 years ago, students in schools and colleges throughout the United States and several foreign countries picked up litter from their campuses in an effort to improve their immediate environment.

Little did those students know then that what they were doing was starting the environmental movement.

Today, what were once considered “radical” ideas such as recycling and buying “green” products are now mainstream. Most communities of any significant size in the United States offer recycling, many mandatory.

We haven’t come nearly far enough, though.

Somewhat over a generation ago, all soda and most beer came in refillable containers. You would use a “church key” or bottle opener to open them and when you had finished your beverage you would send your bottle back to the bottling plant where it would be washed and sterilized and used all over again.

About the same time period, grocers bagged your groceries in paper, not plastic. Since paper is biodegradable, we then did not have the plethora of blowing plastic bags that we do now.

Even in England today, milk continues to be marketed in what we consider to be the old-fashioned milk bottle. You can either look at that as old-fashioned or else you can view it as an enlightened environmentally friendly approach.

Some, but not enough, fast-food restaurants have gone to biodegradable wrappers and containers. That’s laudable, considering the fact that much of the litter we see along today’s roadways comes from people who grab a bite then throw their wrappers out the window.

Perhaps the fine for littering in Iowa isn’t stiff enough. If you go just a couple states to the south, to Arkansas, fines for littering are a lot stiffer, ranging from $100 to $1,000. You’ll notice too that there’s hardly any littering at all there. So those fines must work.

The Keep Iowa Beautiful coalition says the $35 fine for littering isn’t nearly enough, and they’re probably right.

So the next time you think about littering, think again. Someone else is going to have to look at whatever it is that you throw out the window. A cigarette thrown from a car window can catch dry grass on fire, costing area fire departments hundreds of dollars to extinguish it. So pack a garbage bag in your car and use it.

It’s your Iowa. So keep it beautiful.