Local News

'Keep N.C. Clean and Green' not always obeyed

Posted February 12, 2008 8:38 p.m. EST
Updated April 30, 2008 6:31 p.m. EDT

— In 2006, state crews and volunteers picked up 10,000 tons of trash from North Carolina roadsides. That is twice the weight of the space shuttle.

All over the state, signs read: "Keep North Carolina Clean and Green," but not everyone heeds the slogan. Cleaning roads cost the state $16 million. The problem is three-fold: people throwing trash out of car windows, illegal dumping and uncovered loads on the highway.

At a site in Robeson County, WRAL found garbage, a heap of old tires and a commode amid "No Dumping" signs.

"With litter, we have to change it. We've got to have an attitudinal and a behavioral change, and that takes education," said Bobby Hurst, chairman of the Fayetteville Beautiful Committee.

Hurst is a member of the Fayetteville City Council and founder of the committee. He said about half of the litter in Fayetteville comes from trucks hauling unsecured trash. The other half is people pitching it out of car windows.

"First of all, they see no sense of belonging, or that property is not theirs," Hurst said.

It's a nasty cycle because, if an area is already trashed, Hurst said, people feel more inclined to trash it even more. Trying to keep the state clean can feel like an exercise in futility, he said.

The state uses 1,376 prison inmates on roadside clean-up details, making up a total of 172 crews statewide. Crews are working somewhere every day, weather permitting.

"The key here, which we gotta do better at, is enforcing the litter laws," Hurst said.

Fines for littering run between $250 and $2,000. But it is a tough violation to enforce. Officers have to witness someone in the act of littering.

The Highway Patrol issued 1,101,841 tickets in 2006 – the latest year for statistics are available. Of those, 885 were for littering. In that same year, there were about 5,600 litter citations statewide, but 40 percent to 45 percent were dismissed, according to the Department of Transportation.

The state’s Adopt-a-Highway program began in 1988 with 477 miles of roads adopted by 223 groups.

An estimated 5,595 groups clean more than 11,000 miles of roadway. Groups such as schools, civic clubs, businesses and churches are involved.

DOT officials said the program saved the state $4.5 million in clean-up costs in 2006.

Even though litter is still rampant, Adopt-a-Highway state coordinator Anne Walker said the program is working. Asked what the state would look like without the program, she replied, “There would still be litter out here – just a lot more of it.”

She said that enforcing litter laws is difficult for officers. “If there’s heavy traffic, it’s sometimes not clear which vehicle it’s coming from,” Walker said. “But they are making an effort.”

Despite efforts, the litter just keeps coming back.

“And to see it back within two weeks, I know it’s discouraging to our volunteers,” Hurst said.

Litter is a big issue with a lot of people, but lawmakers did not seem ready to tackle it last year. The Litter Reduction Act would have put surcharges on recyclables, but it got stuck in the Senate. Other bills got stuck in the House.

The state does have a Swat-A-Litter Bug program that lets people litterers. The person gets a note from the state, as well as information on littering penalties. Last year, the state received 8,000 complaints.

In Wake County, a program uses off-duty sheriff's deputies to patrol specifically for littering violations.