MY TURN: Let’s clean up our state and become litter-free

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By Sarah Lyles and Mallory Biering, special to Statehouse Report  |  Litter is a passionate subject. Either one is vehemently against it or one is decidedly apathetic.

Whichever side you lean on, it can’t be denied.  Litter affects all of us. While our Main Streets and interstates get cleaned regularly, our side streets and rural roads are continually treated as a travelers’ trash can. Whether litter is intentionally dumped or accidentally flies out of an unsecured or improperly covered load, it needs to be addressed in a number of ways. Ideally that timeline would involve enforcement of state or local litter laws, a citation to the guilty party, fine levied by the judge and finally pick up.

What seems to happen more often is nothing. Law enforcement is stretched thin or an agency does not consider litter a real crime. Judges don’t uphold the tickets and the fines are thrown out. Community service is not given. Those who can do something to enforce litter laws turn an eye and it falls to the volunteer to clean up what was not his trash or the litter accumulates into a giant mess that requires equipment to remove the debris.

Wanna talk trash? Here’s the dirty on being litter-free:

  • Litter accumulates where there is already litter.
  • Litter is harmful to the environment, leaching chemicals into soil and water, endangering animal and aquatic habitats.
  • Cleaning up litter is one of the cheapest and easiest ways of home improvement.
  • Cleaning up litter, graffiti, junk cars and illegal dumpsites deter criminal activity.
  • 93 percent of homeowners say a littered neighborhood would decrease their assessment of a home’s value and influences their decision to purchase property.
  • 36 percent of business development officials say litter impacts a decision to locate to a community.
  • 55 percent of Realtors think litter reduces property values by about 9 percent.

Those who are passionate about litter are vocal about it. They volunteer. They call elected officials. They call the newspaper for unsolicited free ads. Those who are apathetic will likely never care or change their ways.

If you are somewhere in the gray zone – you do not like seeing litter, but are not sure what you can do about it – you do have a role to play in the behavior-change process.

Aside from not littering, work within your neighborhood to make sure litter is picked up. Experience has shown that routine cleanups – even those once-a-year cleanups – do reduce litter. Peer influence is a strong initiator of behavior change.

Support programs that are already in place in your community. If you have a Keep America Beautiful affiliate, support its efforts by volunteering and telling others about their mission and goals. Participate in activities that help your community, and bring your family and friends to those activities.

Even if there is not an affiliate in your community, options like Adopt-A-Highway and PalmettoPride Clean Teams are available for organized, on-going cleanup efforts. Both of these programs foster a commitment to your quality of life now and in the years to come.

If these options are still not enough for your passion to eliminate litter in your community, then you can sponsor a Palmetto Prideway. This is an interstate cleanup program in which the S.C. Department of Corrections works with volunteer inmates to clean up litter a minimum of twice a month. Recognition signage is placed on both sides of the interstate making this a great, charitable, low-cost alternative to billboards.

Changing your behavior and helping others to change their behaviors where the focus is directly on eliminating litter is key to gaining a litter-free South Carolina. Volunteering, cleaning up, working with your local enforcement agencies and other civic organizations are first steps to reaching this goal.

It’s up to you, the citizen, to make it happen, but you’re not alone. With our support, programs, grant opportunities and high energy, Palmetto Pride will help you achieve your goals. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or visit our website. Better yet, give us a call or drop by our office. We are here for you, to help better our state and to keep it clean, green and beautiful.

Sarah Lyles is executive director of Palmetto Pride.  Mallory Biering is the organization’s Keep SC Beautiful director and community outreach program manager. 


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