There are many myths about littering. Here are a few I would like to share along with facts that should help set the record straight.
MYTH: Littering creates jobs. I have had students share with me that their parents tell them it’s OK to litter because it gives the inmates or someone else work to do. The fact is littering costs money; lots of money. According to Green Eco Services, taxpayers pay millions of dollars for roadside cleanups each year. Alabama Department of Transportation, Keep America Beautiful and their affiliate programs, and Adopt a Highway programs spend millions to clean up only the worst areas. Taxpayer dollars are spent for city, county, state, national agencies, forestry, park, and recreation departments, and prisons to clean up litter.
With that amount of money, state roads and bridges could be repaired, roadside rest areas and traveler information stops could be upgraded, or thousands of potholes could be fixed. Without the help of volunteer agencies, Alabama would spend $50 million dollars on litter cleanup alone!
MYTH: No one really notices litter. Ask Tom Hill, Limestone County Economic Development, if litter matters. When businesses and industries come here to decide if they want to bring their businesses to our county, excessive litter tells them residents here do not take pride in their community.
Ask Teresa Todd, Athens-Limestone County Tourism Association, if litter has an impact on tourism. Litter can take the focus away from the beauty of a community. Tourism is a very important part of our economy. When people travel to visit Athens and Limestone County, litter can leave a bad impression. A clean, beautiful community leaves visitors wanting to return to spend more time and money here. “In Limestone County we have visitors in our communities every day. The first impression we make on our guests is vital,” Teresa Todd said. “I love it when tourists come in the Visitor Center and tell me they love our town because it is so friendly and clean, and they are thinking about moving here. That makes me so proud of how our residents and businesses care and show their pride for our communities.”
MYTH: Only “certain types” of people litter. That is surely not true! I have seen an elderly couple driving a Cadillac toss a fast food bag out of the car! I have seen men and women of all ages toss cigarettes out the window. I have also seen teens toss beer cans, and families toss dirty diapers. Litterbugs can be found among people of every age, sex, race, and economic status.
MYTH: Litter doesn’t hurt anyone. Litter is a breeding ground for disease-carrying insects, bacteria, and rodents. Litter causes fires, auto accidents, and injury. Thousands of pets, wildlife, and farm animals are injured or killed due to eating littered items. An animal attracted to the tasty crumbs in a potato chip bag could die of starvation if the bag is swallowed. Starvation occurs because the bag is not digestible. Therefore the animal feels full and fails to eat. Birds have been tangled in plastic bags as they try to get a tasty morsel out of them, leaving them to starve or overheat. Fish and turtles become tangled in fishing line or plastic rings from drinks.
Litter doesn’t stay in one place; it can be moved by wind, water, animals, and humans. Much will find its way into ditches, wash into streams, and often find its way to rivers and lakes. Some will make it all the way to the ocean polluting ground water and waterways as it goes and endangering wildlife along the way.
MYTH: Cigarette filters are biodegradable. The fact is that filters are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic. Cigarette butts can persist in the environment as long as other forms of plastic. Cigarette filters have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds, whales, and other marine life that mistake them for food. 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered each year. With each one containing a huge number of dangerous chemicals and poisons that leach into our soil and groundwater, that adds up to a serious problem.
Litter is everyone’s problem. Even those of us who never litter are affected by those who do. Don’t be afraid to speak up when friends and family litter. Remind them of the impact litter has on our community. Be a good example. People do watch other people. Let them see us showing community pride and putting litter in its place!
By: Lynne Hart