Thursday, May 2, 2013

Walmart and Litter: Cause or Effect?

Mark Frauenfelder, writing on Boing Boing, tells of a site that publishes rafts of photos of litter at Walmart.

I once read that people who litter not only have little respect for the world around them, but that they also have little respect for themselves. I believe it. So is it any wonder that Walmart -- which is owned by a handful of the richest people on Earth yet shows little respect for employees, shoppers, communities, and taxpayers -- would have litter-strewn, filthy stores?
That anti-Walmart attitude is clearly shared by the photographer. And it is a sorry bunch of images, I agree, including this one, which has the added value of an incompetently written sign:

What does that sign even mean? If they have testers, isn't spraying what they're for?

But the thing that gets me about the photos is how people could drop their junk so indiscriminately in the first place. Whether it's a crumpled paper towel on the floor or a squeeze jar of jelly left on a shelf beside the tampons, I have to say I just don't understand how things got so out of hand.

Do other major retailers have just as much of this stuff to clean up constantly, but do a better job at it than the Walmarts in these photos? Or does a little bit of litter breed casual indifference on the part of other shoppers, who then are more likely to litter? (As Tom Vanderbilt discussed in the section on descriptive norms in his book Traffic.)

I have been in a Walmart only once, and I confess my only memory of it is the odor at the entrance. It was a mix of unpleasant cleaning products masking something even more unpleasant. It was enough to make me never go back.


Cavewoman said...

I'm a manager at a large national retailer, and I can tell you for certain I am constantly picking up garbage in my store. Coffee cups, used napkins/kleenex, random pieces of paper. As you surmise, a couple pieces of litter attracts more. Similarly, a small pile of out of place merchandise will attract more. I assume it is the case because people are at least slightly embarrassed to be littering, but if they see a pile already started they can feel more anonymous when adding to it.

Michael Leddy said...

In college, I worked in discount department stores, and I can attest that customers will leave stuff anywhere. There will always be a mess. Don’t want that ground beef after all? Just leave it on a shelf somewhere. We would get done straightening up an aisle (that was the lingo) and find it immediately going to pieces.

But the scenes in these photographs suggest disarray and trash beyond any standard of what’s acceptable. A large part of the problem is that Walmart stores understaff their operations: there aren’t enough people to do the work of keeping up appearances.