Let's do something about litter

Mar. 02, 2014 @ 04:06 AM

Attention local political candidates: your potential constituents are united in their disgust over Rutherford County's increasingly littered grounds and roadsides.  As one of the prettiest - and most visited - counties in the state, we need to clean the place up. Here's your chance to tell us how we can.

Believe me, this really is a unifying issue. It's one of the most frequently raised complaints in letters to this paper. But if there's an official, county-wide initiative to do something about the litter problem for good, I'm not aware of it.

Indeed, what finally motivated me to write about the topic was a recent stroll through the complex of county offices off Callahan Road. The amount of trash alongside the walkway that weaves behind these offices, particularly the area that runs behind the parking lot for the county school buses, was astounding.

And that's saying something for an area that, at this point, probably has more roadsides than not blighted by litter.

Several months back a group of local youth decided to take matters into their own hands. They spent hours one Saturday cleaning up one of the county's primary walking trails, the Rail-to-Trail that connects Spindale to Gilkey.

Within a day the portion of the trail that runs behind McDonald's was strewn with litter again; not surprisingly, most of it bearing the fast food restaurant's logo.

Actually, a good bit of the litter in Rutherford County, and elsewhere in America, is comprised of fast food and convenience food packaging. By some estimates, more than 50 percent. In response, the fast food industry has partnered with other industries to form the organization "Keep America Beautiful" - which in addition to conducting a number of clean-up campaigns, has extensively researched the topic of littering.

One of the more interesting findings from a 2009 report is that most littering is done with "notable intent." A dismaying discovery, to be sure, especially when you consider - as the report points out - that we live in a nation with plenty of garbage cans, dumpsters, and daily waste disposal services.

In other words, most litter isn't the result of trash accidentally falling out of messy cars when the door is opened, or blowing from the top of a moving garbage truck. The majority of litter is from people who intentionally toss the stuff on the ground, even if a trash receptacle is relatively close by.

To combat this behavior, I have a two-fold, stick-and-carrot tactic in mind.

First, we should prominently display signs warning litterers of the heavy fines and other consequences they face if caught, and then be prepared to actually enforce these punitive measures.

Second, we fight intentional littering with intentional cleaning. Specifically, let's pay people to clean up litter, per filled trash bag, similar to how people are paid for picking up glass bottles and other recyclables. We can put such a clean-up program directly under the jurisdiction of our county's solid waste department.

Does that mean the taxpayers should foot the bill? My own view is that the businesses selling the products behind much of this litter, such as fast food restaurants and convenience stores, have some responsibility here. If they aren't on board with funding a clean-up program, perhaps they have other ideas.

We need leaders to bring them to the table, however, which is why I'm addressing this column to local candidates...incumbents and challengers alike. Litter may not have been an issue that was previously considered for the upcoming elections, but it should be. Most anyone you talk to in the county, regardless of their political background, is turned off by the growing amount of trash on the ground.

Well, except for the ones responsible for putting it there. But even though they're making an awful mess, I'm positive they're outnumbered by those of us who are tired of living in it.


Stephanie Janard is a mother and writer who lives in Spindale. She can be reached at sjanard@msn.com.