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This simple crime can be costly

Litter control is an ongoing struggle for municipalities. There is time and expense involved in pickup, maintenance and beautification efforts. Yet a successful litter control program pays dividends with improved quality of life for residents, a sense of community pride, and the economic development rewards that come from attracting residents and businesses.

To change the behavior that causes litter, there must be a consistent approach to litter prevention, according to Sarah Lyles, executive director of Palmetto Pride. For instance, Palmetto Pride focus groups have found that issuing tickets would deter littering, Lyles said.

Litter control involves many stakeholders, resource assessments and community considerations. Starting a litter control program should involve law enforcement, schools and concerned residents and be supported by city councils, Lyles said. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter introduced legislation in 2014, prompted in part by news coverage of South Carolina’s problems with litter. As a result of her efforts, the SC Litter Commission was created last year in the SC Department of Natural Resources. It encourages greater cooperation, particularly between state and local officials, on litter removal and prevention.

Some cities have used code enforcement to help reduce litter. Charleston has a livability court that focuses on litter and other code violations. Rock Hill has strong codes that focus on property blight. Neeses has made litter pickup a consistent community-wide project by adopting a highway and participating in the Great American Cleanup.

Municipalities can employ a number of community improvement tactics that are not expensive, Lyles said. They can plan a citywide cleanup, involve garden clubs in beautification projects, work with local businesses to keep their grounds litter-free, assign city personnel to clean up litter in parks and other high-impact areas, and encourage people to adopt a highway or form a Palmetto Pride Clean Team.

It may take a while for the new efforts to make a noticeable difference.

"The fact is that there will always be litter," Lyles said. "Taking the time to clean it up will reduce litter in the long run. Consistent cleanup and litter prevention education will make a difference."

Litter is always a concern in the City of Clemson, where up to 100,000 people can descend upon the city for football games, graduations or other special events. Even during an ordinary week, students pack the bars and restaurants downtown and leave behind trash.

"One of the biggest factors in having a clean community is having a clear message from city council of the importance of achieving a clean place," said Clemson City Administrator Rick Cotton. "Council’s clear directive to employees of this priority will ensure that all departments contribute where possible, regardless of whether it is in your job description or not."

Clemson’s horticulture and public works departments work together on cleanup and beautification efforts. The horticulture department mows, manicures and picks up trash on a stretch of highway leading into the city.

"It reflects on our community," said Tony Tidwell, city horticulturist. "We want to be inviting to visitors."

The biggest litter-causing events are football games, said Clemson Public Works Director David Conner.

The city takes pride in its cleanup efforts and has crews working throughout the night after football games so streets are clean in the morning. The city council recognized that the public works department needed extra equipment to do its job, so last year it purchased a small street sweeper that can get into parking decks and the downtown area to sweep up cups, bottles and other debris. Public works employees also work closely with the university and share equipment to do major street cleaning along the main corridors a couple times a year, Conner said.

"It’s a powerful message when you see someone out there keeping the streets clean," Tidwell said. "It preaches responsibility and ownership."

The City of Greenwood makes a conscious effort to pick up litter prior to mowing rights of way, parks and other public spaces, spending hundreds of man hours annually picking up litter in the city, according to City Manager Charlie Barrineau.

Greenwood County created a Keep Greenwood County Beautiful program in 2008 to coordinate the county’s "Pitch In" Litter Prevention Task Force in association with Palmetto Pride. The group organizes numerous litter cleanups and shred days. Additionally, the group coordinates the annual Lake Greenwood Cleanup Day along with Preserving Lake Greenwood. The Greenwood City/County Planning Department coordinates a monthly litter cleanup using community service assistance from the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.

The biggest challenge is that litter is never-ending, and volunteers get discouraged when they feel they are not making a dent in the problem, Barrineau said. But those long-term efforts are critical, he added.

"I spoke to the Greenwood Realtors Association, and a local realtor told me about how litter and curb appeal many times impact the sale of property," he said. "There is no question this is a concern for Greenwood and the entire state of South Carolina."

It is often difficult for small towns to stay on top of litter-control efforts. The towns of Neeses and Norway in Orangeburg County participated in voluntary trash pickups in April. Neeses’ effort was in conjunction with the Adopt-A-Highway program, and Norway’s was through Palmetto Pride. The towns picked up a combined 1,575 pounds of trash.

Volunteers in Norway picked up trash on the roadways along highways 321, 400 and 332. In addition to the town’s continued anti-litter efforts, its Beautification Committee is currently discussing plans to landscape Main Street (Hwy 321) to create a welcoming environment for new businesses and residents, according to Mayor Ann Johnson. 

"With the continued dedication and participation of our residents, the Town of Norway is working hard toward projecting an image that is inviting to those who may consider us for their residential or commercial home," Johnson said. 

Neeses Town Clerk Sonja Gleaton coordinated the Adopt-A-Highway Litter Pickup Day in her town. The town deals with a lot of litter due to its busy location as a crossroads for Savannah Highway, Neeses Highway and Ninety Six Road.

"Location, location, location," Gleaton said. "That says a lot about the amount of litter we get."

In addition, the Town of Neeses’ Adopt-A-Highway group participates in litter pickup events that are sponsored by other agencies such as Keep Orangeburg County Beautiful. The town also organizes educational programs in coordination with its Crime Watch meetings to focus on how litter may affect the environment in the community.

"We do the best job we can with picking it all up, and the town is behind us 100 percent," Gleaton said.

Littering is a crime and needs to be addressed with a consistent effort, according to Jamie Nelson, past president of the South Carolina Litter Control Association, and director of the Spartanburg County Environmental Enforcement Department.

"Knowing that our cities are the cornerstones of this beautiful state we live in, litter control and the actual act of enforcing the litter laws must be at the forefront and not an afterthought in the mindset of municipal governments and police departments," Nelson said. "This so-called ‘simple’ crime of littering is extremely costly to municipal governments. This act has potentially cost areas possible economic growth, both by missing out on industries and new residents."