Growing trash problems can be fixed

An abandoned mattress sits in a ditch on the side of the road that leads to the south side of Patterson Lake outside of Dickinson on Monday. Littering and the abandonment of big items is becoming more of an issue in the Dickinson area, one of many impacts being felt because of the oil boom.

Trash and littering are becoming hot topics in western North Dakota. Just about anywhere you look, there are plastic bags and paper stuck in fences and sitting in ditches, or beer cans and bottles that have been dropped in random spots.

McKenzie and Williams counties in the much busier northern portion of the Oil Patch have been fighting an increasingly difficult bout to maintain clean prairies and cities than we have here in southwest North Dakota.

But don’t rest easy folks. As we see more and more oil activity and population influx, we’re simultaneously going to see a larger wave of trash.

Trash has never been a huge issue in our area. Sure, North Dakotans aren’t the go-green recycling types, but much of that is because of the lack of options providing that service.
Then again, we’re not big on littering or illegal dumping either.

North Dakotans are taught from an early age that the land should be treated with the utmost respect because regardless of what we may find beneath it, our landscape and our soils will always be our greatest natural resource.

In recent chats with people around the area and after posting a question on The Press’ Facebook page last Sunday, I discovered a few things.

— First, people — especially lifelong residents — are not happy about what they’re seeing. They see trash and litter as blight on our area’s image of being an impeccably clean place to live and raise a family.

One woman, a Dickinson native no longer living here, remarked on our Facebook page about how clean the city was just five years ago and she’s right.

There has been a noticeable difference in loose trash and neglect in the past half-decade.

Last Sunday while walking around Walmart, I noticed a half-eaten sandwich sitting on a paper plate in the middle of the store. I want to meet the people who are too lazy to find a trash can and knock some sense into them and the people who raised them.

— There are several people who blame everything on the “oilfield trash” or “out-of-towners” who just don’t care about the area. While this may be partly true — last summer, I saw a man with an out-of-state license plate dumping a colored, non-water liquid onto the ground in north Dickinson — we can’t lump everyone into this mold.

My neighbors are Michigan natives who moved here for work in the oil industry. They’re also environmental stewards and outdoorsmen who grew up around lakes and wilderness. They despise littering, especially in sensitive areas.

My advice to the people who move here and aren’t respecting the area is to start because they’re giving all the great people who now call this city home a bad name and they don’t deserve that.

— The city and county need to do their parts to make sure cleanup efforts get off the ground. While loose refuse is one thing, piles of trash in yards is another.

We have a cleanup week in Dickinson, but it’s not as well organized as it could be. In fact, very few people even realize when it happens.

The Fargo-Moorhead communities have set a great standard on cleanliness. Five days every May are set aside as cleanup week in which residents are given an opportunity to dispose of appliances, tires and other large items at no charge on their garbage collection day. It is well publicized, well organized and has been a huge success.

We need something like that on a Dickinson-sized scale.

— Lastly, let’s talk about trash cans.

As soon as it gets warm outside, Sarah and I make it our mission to get outside and walk. We do this partly for exercise and partly because our neurotic dog needs to be active and we’re tired of him ruining our grass.

Normally we walk around our home area, but on the weekends or days off, we usually head to a park. For the most part, the parks in Dickinson are very clean. But we have noticed that many of them have few trash cans and those they have are old, rusty and not well marked.

While we pick up after our dog, I can assure you there are several people who don’t. I can’t help but think that most people would rather let their dog’s leftovers sit than pick up and carry it for several minutes because there’s nowhere to put it. I can only assume this is the same for people who have everyday trash.

As we grow as a community, we must realize some of the greater needs that aren’t as big as roads, housing and places to shop and eat.

Sometimes, it’s the little things like cleanliness that make a city great.

Monke is the managing editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at, tweet him at monkebusiness or visit his blog at

Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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