The cost of littering
Mar 08, 2013 | 438 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Because of a heavy news day, an article in our March 1 edition that deserved front-page coverage instead received placement at the top of an inside page.

But with a six-column headline and boxed, we hope it still attracted some attention among our readers in Cleveland and Bradley County, and in any community for that matter.

The article spoke volumes with the headline, “KAB sees littering, dumping as local issues.” The story originated from a monthly gathering of the Cleveland/Bradley Keep America Beautiful board of directors whose membership, alongside Executive Director Joanne Maskew, voted littering and illegal dumping as the two most critical eyesores facing the local environment.

We agree.

While other problems exist that also threaten the well-being, the safety and the future of our waterways and groundwater, littering and dumping are two of the most obvious. Assuredly, they are the ugliest. And in many ways, they are shockingly expensive from a financial perspective and equally as alarming from any mindset.

“How so?” one might ask. “Besides, it eventually blows away or is biodegradable and eventually will become one with the soil.”

Such pretense is as troubling as the act of littering itself.

Consider these factors — in Tennessee alone — which could vary depending on a researcher’s sources:

n An estimated 12 million miles are driven each year for the pickup of litter along the shoulders of our state routes. Keep in mind most of these vehicles run on petroleum-based fuel. No further explanation should be necessary.

n Of these 12 mil, and all that burned gasoline or diesel? It does not even include local jurisdictional litter pickup such as that in Cleveland and Bradley County. The point is, whether the cost is absorbed by the state or by city and county taxpayers, it’s still a massive chunk of change that shouldn’t have to be spent in the first place.

n Some 18 percent of all littered items end up in our streams and waterways as pollution. That means litter in our state travels to other states and eventually ends up in the ocean. Consider the plight of our own Mouse Creek. When enjoying the health benefits and outdoor pleasures of the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway, how much trash, and how many discarded tires, do you see in this winding body of water? If not for the good deeds of Keep America Beautiful and other volunteers who coordinate community cleanups, Mouse Creek could become even worse, bordering on the atrocious ... even in the presence of a community asset so alluring as the Greenway.

n On the U.S. level, the 2009 National Visible Litter Survey and Litter Cost Study coordinated through KAB found that litter in a community decreases property values by at least 7 percent.

n According to the same national survey, more than 51 billion pieces of litter land on U.S. roadways each year. Most if it, about 46.6 billion pieces, is less than 4 inches long. That’s 6,729 items per mile. Does Cleveland have such areas? It is debatable.

n An anti-littering website originating in Nashville offers this eye-opening disclosure, “Some 48 percent of Tennesseans polled say that they have knowingly thrown trash on the street. One in five say they do this on a regular basis.”

For those who don’t know, a second conviction for littering in Tennessee carries a $1,500 fine and six months of litter duty. A first conviction in our state can cost $500 and 40 hours of community service picking up litter. But, some will argue the state laws are not enforced. Judging from the litter we see along most roadways, it is difficult to argue their point.

Want to make a difference? Here’s how:

First, don’t litter!

Second, if you see someone tossing trash from a vehicle or if you witness trash falling from an unsecured truck load, call 1-877-8-LITTER. A recording will ask for the offender’s license plate number and other information related to the incident.

Third, don’t hesitate to pick up someone else’s litter.

Leading by example will reinforce a positive message that others — hopefully — will receive, and embrace.