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One big pile

Long Story Short



You may recall Arlo Guthrie's classic song, "Alice's Restaurant."

In the 23-minute monologue, Guthrie describes being barred from military service for "being a litterbug," having been caught dumping a friend's "half a ton of garbage" off a cliff. Interestingly, Guthrie says in the song that he decided to dump the trash after noticing a small pile of garbage already there.

"We decided that one big pile is better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up, we decided to throw ours down," he sings.

What Guthrie was describing is what's come to be known as "the broken window theory." In short, it's the idea that if a place looks uncared-for, it will attract crime, vandalism and, yes, dumping.

The theory certainly seems to be proving itself in Colorado Springs, where hidden or neglected properties have become magnets for illegal dumping, as well as for vandalism and homeless camps (here). The dumping problem is persistent — it doesn't take long for trash to reappear after a cleanup.

While some of the targeted areas are public, others are on private property. Assuming the perpetrators aren't caught, who should have to pick up the garbage?

My co-worker also brings up another question: What kind of people dump their trash on someone else's land? While some in our cover story assume that dumpers are simply too poor to afford the dump, she has another theory.

"They're assholes," she says.

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