LITTER: So Who Is Really To Blame?

By: Lynne Hart

There has been a great deal of talk about litter lately, and for good reason. Just take a ride and look at the roadsides in Athens and Limestone County. It seems that as quickly as the litter is picked up, it reappears.

Why care?

Litter is ugly, costs huge amounts of tax dollars to clean up, causes injuries to wildlife and people, spoils and degrades nature, pollutes water and soil, lowers property values, and gives the impression residents do not value their community which can have a negative economic impact.

What’s out there?

Have you ever wondered what’s really out there and where it comes from? Let’s take a moment and examine the source and composition of litter. Here are some interesting facts derived from a comprehensive study done by Keep America Beautiful:
Litter on roads and highways is the result of individual actions.

  • Along roadways and highways, motorists generate 52.2% of litter and pedestrians 17.5%
  • Motorists not properly securing truck or cargo loads, including collection vehicles, represents 20.7% of roadway litter over 4” in size.
    Along U.S. roadways, improperly discarded cigarette butts are the most frequently identified item.
  • Tobacco products comprise about 38% of all U.S. roadway litter.
  • Almost 46% of all litter over 4” is from packaging, including fast food, snack, tobacco, and other product packaging.
  • 61% of beverage containers found on U.S. roadways are soft drink and beer containers.

Off the roads, most litter is improperly discarded at “transition points.” These are places where people consuming food or tobacco products have to discard them before entering. The most littered items at transition points are candy, gum, and tobacco products.
Who is to blame?

It is easy to look at these statistics and point fingers at others; however, before we do, we should examine our own behaviors.

It is a fact that some people who would never litter anything else will flick a cigarette out of the car window or drop it on the ground without a second thought.

We can complain about loose trash flying out of sanitation trucks; however, the problem begins with residents failing to put all items inside a trash bag. Athens City Ordinance Section 46-96 –Cart Service (i) states: “Every person shall dispose of solid waste in a clean and sanitary manner by placing it in bags before putting it in the cart. It is the responsibility of the residential customer to keep solid wastes contained in the cart.” This also means it is the resident’s responsibility to clean up trash that somehow finds its way out of the cart, no matter how it happens.

It is easy to become upset when we see litter trapped along waterways and fence rows; however, it may have come from trash left behind at an outdoor event in a park, stadium, or other outdoor venue. It is not uncommon for trash to be left in the bleachers at ballgames and other sporting events. Wind and rain can easily move that trash before there is a chance of getting it cleaned up.

Trash along our roadsides is disgusting; unfortunately, there are people who tell their children that it’s OK to litter because the inmates need something to do? Yes, over the years I have heard this from several students. I am dumbfounded every time. Inmate labor is not free! Someone is paid to supervise them, there are expenses associated with the vehicle that is used, and supplies must be provided. These are your tax dollars that could be used for something else.

Let’s examine our own behaviors and work to change our personal habits and those of our families. Every small change made can add up to huge positive impacts over time.
By: Lynne Hart
Executive Coordinator – Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful