Litterbugs on the rise

Article Published: Jan. 14, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Litterbugs on the rise

Roadside litter becomes more evident as snow begins to melt.

Photo by Lauren Ohnesorge

Litterbugs are on the rise, state officials say.

DOT officials suspect that underneath that blanket of snow is another blanket, one of trash and debris we will see in this week's thaw.

"All North Carolinians can do their part to reduce litter," transportation secretary Gene Conti said in a press release. According to a new report, they are.

Last week the N.C. Department of Transportation announced an increase in the number of roadside littering incidents reported through the Swat-A-Litterbug program. That, according to Conti, "shows that North Carolinians are tired of seeing people litter."

The Swat-A-Litterbug program can help you report violators, N.C. Cooperative Extension agent Wendy Patoprsty said. She has a stack of postcards in the lobby of the local extension office that makes it easy.

"You can write down people's license plates on a postcard and send them in," she said.

More than 11,700 littering reports were processed statewide from Jan. 1 through Dec. 30 of 2009 through the program. Compare that to the 9,600 reports in 2008, and it is a 20 percent increase.

While the state is still compiling numbers for Watauga County, if debris cleanup is any indication, litter itself has increased in the High Country.

Here in Watauga County, residents take action through road cleanups, part of the Adopt-a-Highway program. In 2009, volunteers picked up more than 3,400 bags of trash from Watauga highways.

Local litter activist Nancy Reigel with Mountain Keepers said litter attracts litter, so it is important to pick it up.

"Just drive down any major highway and there it is," she said.

Patoprsty said it is not just the highways that have a problem. A river cleanup she spearheaded last year picked up 6,000 pounds of trash in Watauga River.

"And we could have picked up 6,000 pounds more," she said, "There is no water flowing into our county. It's all flowing out. We can't blame it on anybody else."

Recycling, securing items in your truck, picking up litter and reporting violators are the best ways to combat the problem, experts agree, and soon there may be another local agency taking action.

Keep America Beautiful (KAB) is in the process of signing Ashe County as an affiliate and has spoken with officials in Watauga County, KAB's Linda Ewadinger said.

"Our goal is to have KAB presence in all counties," she said. "Who wouldn't want a Keep Watauga Beautiful program?"

So far, 31 counties, including Wilkes, are affiliates.

"It basically educates and engages individuals," she said. "Litter is a real issue from an economic standpoint due to tourism in western North Carolina."

To have a KAB official speak to your group, call Ewadinger at (704) 442-0791.

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