Litter Bugs: It’s Time to Catch ’em, Ticket ’em and Fine ’em
The results of my Fairhaven neighbors’ trudgery lined the roads: piles of tires, rusted bed springs and auto parts, heavy old televisions and fat black sacks stuffed with litter. Anne Arundel County hauled the loot away, and our roads and fields were blessedly clean — for about 24 hours.
Then the litter showers resumed, starting with a sprinkling of fast-food trash and stepping up, within the week, to more tires. They, like the mattress and television and couch dumpers, must have begrudged the gas to drive to the Sudley Convenience Center, only 10 miles north.
Providence neighbors cleaned up their community last weekend. Your neighborhood probably has too, or will soon. The litterers will immediately follow. Wherever you live, they know how to get there.
Whoever they are, they think we don’t mind their trash.
We do. They’re trashing the little part of Earth we can do something about, and that makes us mad as hell.
Littering makes our Potomac River neighbors so mad that they’re not going to take it any more.
Leading the war on litter in the Potomac River watershed is the Alice Ferguson Foundation. The Foundation is the keeper of Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center, a 330-acre working farm located on the shorelines of the Potomac River south of Washington, D.C. Its mission of personal environmental responsibility inspires the annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup. In 24 years of cleaning up, more than 100,000 volunteers and over 425 partner organizations have removed over three million tons of trash from the watershed.
Year after year, the trash kept coming. Its persistence made these litter warriors attack the problem at its source. Since 2005, the Trash-Free Potomac Watershed Initiative has sought systemic solutions to the persistent problem of trash. Among those smart solutions: support for more county and state plastic bag bans like those enacted in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County; trash summits; regional litter awareness and prevention campaigns; and a Trash Treaty, signed by county executives, mayors and U.S. representatives, all committing to achieving a trash-free river by 2013.
Yes, that’s just next year. Yet last year’s cleanup yielded plenty of trash. At 613 registered sites in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, 11,388 volunteers removed 228 tons of trash, including 6.6 tons of bulky items like furniture, scrap metal and debris; 20.66 tons of tires; and 14,606 bags. Over 15 tons was recycled.
Included in the mess were 26,624 plastic bags, 198,700 bottles, 29,437 cigarette butts, 12 bicycle handlebars, a 1930s’ era car and 53 empty cans of Vienna Sausage.
The most common brand names among the litter were Budweiser/Bud Lite, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Corona.
Yes, as you and I know, litter is a persistent problem. It’s more than irritating and unsightly.
“Litter is a threat to public health and our regional economy. It harms wildlife, decreases property values, hurts business and is a financial burden for local governments,” says Ferguson Foundation director Lori Arguelles.
Thus for a second year, the Cleanup Campaign has recruited some tough partners.
Police departments from around the Potomac Watershed are making April their Litter Enforcement Month.
The 2nd annual Potomac Watershed Litter Enforcement Month began on April Fool’s Day. But no fooling, the 10 participating jurisdictions are actively enforcing litter laws. Catch ’em, ticket ’em and fine ’em, that means.
“We really encourage people to report sites of illegal dumping, this month and year-round,” says Cleanup coordinator Alena Rosen.
In Anne Arundel County, dial 9-1-1 if the littering is in progress. Call 410-222-8610 to report dump sites.
In Calvert County, call 410-535-2800.
Wish I could say Anne Arundel and Calvert counties were signed up for Potomac Watershed Litter Enforcement Month. They’re not. But neighboring Prince George’s and Montgomery counties are, along with the Maryland-National Capitol Park Police, the town of Forest Heights and Maryland Natural Resources Police.
“We are glad to be part of this community of area governments and organizations to highlight this problem that affects the quality of life and the environment,” said Col. George F. Johnson IV, superintendent of Maryland Natural Resources Police. “We hope this public outreach campaign will encourage the public to become involved in keeping our environment free of litter and report those individuals that violate the law.”
Call 800-628-9944 to report dumping in Maryland waters and state parks. Penalties levied through Maryland Natural Resources Police can range from $500 to $25,000 and five years in jail.
In Virginia, Alexandria, Arlington and Prince William counties are joining in. So is the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Park Police.
So this spring, I’m looking forward to a new set of statistics from the Alice Ferguson Foundation. As well as numbers of balls and plastic bags cleaned up, I’m eager to know how many tickets were given to how many deserving litterbugs and how many dollars they were fined.
This year’s Potomac River Watershed Cleanup is April 14 from 9am to noon. Sign up and choose a worksite at www.fergusonfoundation.org/trash_initiative/trash_cleanup.shtml. Gloves and trash bags provided.