Earth Matters: Small indiscretions can lead to big community problems

More frequently than we realize, little things can collectively make a big difference.

I was reminded of this, strangely enough, following one of our recent snows.

Four or five times in a matter of a few hours, I saw people unsuccessfully trying to walk down a sidewalk that was covered with not only the fresh snow, but the ice covering from the previous storm.

More than a day after the snow ended, the owners hadn’t cleared the walk, evidently because they didn’t think it was important. Seems like a small thing, doesn’t it?

An area woman dumps her trash behind a neighboring apartment building, rather than pay for a waste hauler. Since she is stashing a bag of trash where she shouldn’t, she throws the recycling right in the trash bag, too. This doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, either.

A thoughtless driver tosses his cigarette out his car window at the next corner or into the dried leaves along the road. That little butt does not look like a big problem.

In the interests of making more money off his rental property, the owner of a once-beautiful brick home ignores the leaking roof and the windows that should have been replaced three decades ago. The tenants don’t really care either because the house is in such bad shape. Besides it’s not their house, anyway. But this one house is insignificant in the broad scheme of things, isn’t it?

The old ’88 minivan just won’t run anymore. It’s easier just to park it in the side yard until the owner figures out what to do with it. This single idle vehicle can’t possibly cause a problem for anyone.

A store closes and moves out of the space it rented. Without a tenant, the owner ignores the building. It falls into disrepair, and the grounds become overgrown. But that’s OK; nobody will notice.

An auto junkyard pulls the tires off their cars and piles them near the passing creek. When the next storm washes several dozen into the rushing water, the owner downplays the event, claiming that there weren’t that many tires.

Vacated after being damaged by fire, a mobile home is left setting along a rural road. That’s OK, though, because hardly anyone will notice since it’s off the beaten path.

Not giving much thought about the final destination of the toxic smoke billowing from his burn barrel, a local man sets fire to the stuff from his kitchen garbage can, most of which is recyclable paper, cardboard and plastic. A little bit of smoke shouldn’t hurt anyone.

Every one of these stories is true.

They have happened in and around Altoona in the last few years. Each, by itself, might not seem like much, but most of these stories are being repeated many times.

Piled one atop another, these horrendous practices detract from our community, driving away people (especially young people) and discouraging businesses from coming or staying here.

More tragically, they erode our quality of life.

Dozens of miles of unusable sidewalks, hundreds of blighted properties, thousands of households without waste or recycling service. These create big problems, despite their seemingly small origins.

John Frederick ( writes on environmental issues every other week in the Mirror.