and it rained trash for two thousand years...

LI is always interested in trash. Humans have always left a non-supply line behind them of stuff other than our scat and mortality – it goes along with being tool using beasties. But the heaping helpings of trash that issue daily from the courses of the average American/European/Latin American/Asian/African are producing a sort of global coral reef of garbage, a carapace over the planet.

So we found this NYT article a timely treat, and we liked the f/x chart mapping the average mile of garbage along the road. Here are a few grafs:

“In California and across the nation, where some freeway shoulders have come to resemble weekend yard sales, the nature of road debris has changed, and litter anthropologists are now studying the phenomenon. Where “deliberate” litter used to reign — those blithely tossed fast-food wrappers and the like — “unintentional” or “negligent” litter from poorly secured loads is making its presence felt.

Steven R. Stein, a litter analyst for R. W. Beck, a waste-consulting firm in Maryland, attributes the change to more trash-hauling vehicles, including recycling trucks, and the ubiquity of pickup trucks on the country’s highways. In 1986, Mr. Stein said, two-thirds of the debris was deliberate, but surveys now show the litter seesaw balanced.

He said the two most recent surveys indicated a further increase in unintentional litter. In Georgia, which recently quantified its litter, 66 percent of road debris comes from unintentional litter, largely unsecured loads. A study in Tennessee last year showed that 70 percent of the state’s debris was unintentional.”

Bikers know. I had to bike deep into South Austin a couple of days ago. This means taking my life in my hands and pedaling far down Lamar, an experience akin to being a rabbit on some acreage the beaters are bearing down on. Bikes, in Texas, are hunted things. As you travel the major miles that are being humped over by SUVs and trucks without number, you see what all that portage costs. It isn’t just the perpetually cracked road, the omnipresence of broken glass, the oil slicked dust. Traffic sheds its skin every day, the skin consisting of every container you have ever drunk out of or broken your fingernails trying to tear open, of old magazines, of pipe, of splintered wood, of nails. Long ago I learned that ordinary street bike tires would last about two weeks on the Austin streets. My bike has mountain tires. As I headed out past the tangle of highways around Ben White, I even nearly ran over a diamond back rattler – whether alive or dead, I didn’t stop to find out. I am spooked by suburbia anyway – it always makes me feel like the man who fell to earth – and rambling over potentially tirepoppin stuff while cars as big as small whales go whizzing by you is one way to play the scales on your nerves. Although I shouldn’t exaggerate – I don’t worry too much about one of those whales socking me. If it happens, it happens.

An even better place to study the rain of trash is the path underneath the overpass leading to the lake that I jog every other day. Mopac is, what, fifty, seventy feet above the path? It is like a rain forest there, if you substitute, for drops of water, every kind of human trash. Trees will be shrouded not by the nets the net caterpillar spins – a pest around here – but by mysterious sheets of plastic and vinyl windripped from some truck. Ribbons, string, bags are distributed with abandon, to never decay eventually on the ground. It has all become part of the ecology, like the perpetual susurration of the cars themselves.

But we have to move around in this world:

“A 2004 report on vehicle-related road debris by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety underscored the hazards: In North America, more than 25,000 accidents a year are caused by litter that is dumped by motorists or falls out of vehicles.

“It’s really a problem of individual motorists’ not understanding the aerodynamics of what wind can do to a mattress,” said Scott Osberg, the foundation’s director of research.

Two years ago, a horrifying incident in Washington State led to the passage of Maria’s law, named for Maria Federici, 24, who was blinded and disfigured when a piece of a shelving unit flew off a trailer and crashed through her windshield. Before the accident, Washington drivers with unsecured loads received a traffic citation and a $194 fine. The tougher law made it a gross misdemeanor if an unsecured load caused an injury, carrying with it a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Accident statistics alone may not accurately reflect the frequency of such incidents. Last year, a fatality in Washington State, in which a driver swerved to avoid a flying shelf and hit another car, was classified as a collision.”