Highway litter is a costly problem

Published 6:05 pm Friday, March 13, 2020

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Highway litter is ugly, spoiling an otherwise beautiful landscape, but it not just unsightly.

Litter becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, disease-carrying insects and rodents, and also contributes to ground and water pollution.

It should be viewed, therefore, as a health issue more than a problem of aesthetics.

According to the most recent numbers provided by NC DOT, the state spent a shade over $18 million in 2018 removing litter on state routes. Some of that was in the form of Minimum Custody Road Squads (inmate labor) while the lion’s share was forked over to contracted services.

This is an unfortunate expense because these taxpayer dollars can be saved if citizens would just stop using our highways as trash dumps.

By themselves alone, contracted services for roadside litter removal in North Carolina collected 4,387,230 pounds (over 2,193 tons) of litter in 2018. That total does not take into consideration the amount of litter collected by volunteer Adopt-A-Highway programs across our state.

Back in the mid-1960s the nation’s highways looked like trash dumps because nearly everyone threw trash out of the car without thought.

It was because of this that anti-litter laws were enacted and “Lady Bird” Johnson, the First Lady at the time, launched a nationwide initiative to clean up the nation’s highways.

With volunteers helping clean up the mess and ordinary citizens conscious of their responsibilities to help, the nation’s roadways underwent a vast turnaround.

By the mid-’70s the highways in North Carolina were nearly litter-free, staying that way until the ’90s.

These days it’s nothing to see a soft drink can/plastic bottle or fast food package come flying out of someone’s window or seeing bags from a fast food restaurant, complete with uneaten portions of food, lying in the middle of the road.

It’s a shame that we’ve forgotten lessons once learned and that citizens no longer seem to care about the conditions of the highways – which are owned by, and the responsibility of, everybody.

A new initiative, in the tradition of Mrs. Johnson’s, needs to be launched in the state to clean our roadways.

One deterrent, we believe, is increasing the fine for littering. The statewide fine for intentional littering is $250 plus court costs. This was adopted by the Conference of Chief District Court Judges on October 3, 2018, pursuant to N.C.G.S. 7A-148.

We would like to that fine at least doubled, perhaps even as high as $1,000.

Our hard-earned income that is taxed and used to clean the roads could be used for projects that require more immediate attention – such as improving public schools and giving the teachers a decent wage.

Think about that the next time you reach for a bag of trash in your vehicle and toss it out the window.

– The Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald