Litter – it costs you

Published 7:03 pm Friday, June 26, 2009

Litter is mainly caused by people who are just careless, said Cpl. Scott Carroll of Albany, Ga.’s Department of Natural Resources.

Like the time he was in Forsyth teaching at the training academy. As he left the academy, he started seeing all these little white Styrofoam peanuts floating around in the road.

“I’m catching up and I see more and more of these things. I said to myself: ‘Man, where is all of this stuff coming from?’,” Carroll said.

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As he got farther down the road, he could see this little red sports car with two men in it.

“They’ve got both windows rolled down, and the sunroof open, and there’s a big cardboard box in the back seat that’s full of these Styrofoam peanuts. The box is open and they’re just boiling around in there and coming out of the sunroof and windows,” Carroll said. “These guys were kind of laughing … it almost looked like they were in a snow globe.

“I asked myself, ‘What are the chances that I come up here to teach about litter all day and when I go home I see someone just allowing stuff to blow all out of their car?,” Carroll said.

This was one of the stories Carroll told his audience Thursday during Decatur County’s first litter enforcement training workshop.

Several county commissioners, Bainbridge Public Safety officials, officers from Mitchell County, Decatur County, Seminole County, Donalsonville, Colquitt, Attapulgus and Climax sheriff and police departments, representatives from the District Attorney’s office, people from the city road department and county jail, and the mayor of Attapulgus attended this workshop. Several others—including representatives from the Decatur County Planning Department, the Department of Natural Resources, fire department officials and volunteers from Keep Decatur County Beautiful—attended this workshop in order to better understand the impact of littering, why enforcement of litter laws is important, and how they can effectively go about enforcing these laws.

Carroll, Randy Hartmann, director of the Office of Environmental Management for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and Lynn Cobb from Keep Decatur County Beautiful led this workshop.

According to Hartmann, litter affects our quality of life. One of the ways is by decreasing property values as much as 15 percent.

“In an economy like we are in today, that’s meaningful,” Hartmann said. “Here’s litter, something we can control; we don’t have to have property values fall because of that.

According to Hartmann, there are seven to 10 traffic fatalities every year because of trash on highways.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, who established the statewide campaign against litter in August 2006, said the Department of Transportation spends more than $14 million each year cleaning up highways.

“Not only does litter cost us financially,” Perdue said, “It blinds our roads and our highways, damages our precious water resources and it negatively impacts economic development, tourism and community pride.”

Everyone litters, even those who slide that almost-empty bag of popcorn under their seat at the end of football game because they know someone is being paid to pick it up.

Some think it’s natural to toss out a cigarette butt, but officials don’t.

According to Hartmann, a judge in Rome, Ga., fined an 18-year-old male $400 for throwing cigarette butts out his window.

“Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world,” Hartmann said.

People litter because there is a lack of solid waste collection services or knowledge of proper disposal options, the perception that service is too costly relative to risk of being caught, and simple laziness.

The No. 1 reason, though, is because people are careless. Litter blows out of truck beds, uncovered trash and recycling bins, and off boats and picnic tables.

“We found that two-thirds of what was along Georgia roadsides was not coming from what I always thought of litter as somebody throwing something from a car window, it was actually coming from an unsecured load,” Hartmann said. “We call that negligent litter.”

The Comprehensive Litter Prevention and Abatement Act of 2006 improves the ability of law enforcement to punish litter offenders, clarifies complicated statutes related to litter, and stresses personal responsibility as an overarching principal.

The Georgia Litter Act defines litter as any discarded or abandoned refuse, rubbish, junk or other waste material, or dead animals not subject to provisions of Georgia Code Section 4-5-4, which states that the carcasses or parts of carcasses of all animals should not be left on the highway; if dead animals are on the highway, it is the duty of the Department of Transportation to remove and dispose of the carcasses.

Posters, signs or advertisements in public rights of way, on public and private buildings and properties without authorization, or on properties in violation of zoning ordinances are considered litter.

Automobile parts left behind after an accident is another form of litter. If a tow truck is called, the tow driver is left responsible for collecting all parts of the vehicle, even those ejected in the crash.

“When a tow trucker takes possession of a vehicle, he or she also takes possession of the parts,” Carroll said.

People caught littering can face charges from a fine of $1,000 or up to 12 years in prison, to a fine of $25,000 and/or a term of five years in prison.

According to Cobb, garbage and litter breeds bacteria and molds and can spread diseases; litter provides food and breeding ground for insects, rats and snakes. Litter poses danger to wildlife; it can contaminate water and soil and pose a fire hazard. It is very unsightly and affects enjoyment of Georgia’s beauty by all visitors and residents. No one wants to visit, work or play in a trashy environment.

“Some of our affiliates,” Hartmann said, “are telling us that they actually see littering and illegal dumping as a growing concern.”

We should do all that we can to help uphold and maintain the laws against littering, not just to keep ourselves protected, but our children and pets as well, he said.