Monday, April 10, 2006

Trashing North Carolina

For going on six decades now I’ve had a love affair with my home state. I’m biased, I’ll admit right up front, but I think we’ve been blessed with an incredibly beautiful place to live and work. Except for a few years in the Army and newspapering in Northern Virginia, I’ve lived in this old state all my life and cannot imagine a prettier place.

And yet: I know this marks me as a geezer beyond all redemption, but North Carolina is also a dadgum mess.

Amid all this beauty we also see astonishing ugliness in the form of huge amounts of roadside trash that collectively challenge our sense of values. We North Carolinians like to believe that we revere our environment, and most of us do. But many do not, fouling it every day by tossing trash out the car window or allowing it to blow or fall out of whatever it’s being hauled in.

It’s astonishing what you see along our roadsides and waterways. Almost every time we head east of Raleigh on I-40, my nominee for trashiest highway in the state, we see all manner of junk – parts of coolers, strips of tires, the occasional piece of furniture, old 5-gallon buckets and a flood of bottles and cans and the like. I’m reminded of all this by a recent News & Observer package on roadside litter, written by Matthew Eisley (story). There is, he noted, "a startling, some say embarrasing, amount of highway litter."

It’s everywhere. My daughter once pulled a washing machine out of the Swannanoa River when she was at Warren Wilson College near Asheville on a cleanup workday. The last time we joined a river cleanup with the Neuse River Foundation, we hauled in roofing shingles, pieces of lawn furniture, enough beer bottles to have catered a lacrosse team party and a raft of paper cartons, napkins, bags, tissue and, as Andy Griffith would say, I don’t know what-all.

When I head up to Millbrook Road in Raleigh for my early morning walks, the empty bottles, cigarette packs and plastic and paper bags seem to mushroom on weekends. Sometimes I fill up a plastic bag with the mess before I’ve gone two blocks.

A fellow named Elmer Eddy lives near Jacksonville and puts his canoe in the water to hunt trash. He has, I believed, pulled out tons of trash from the White Oak River and other waterways of Eastern North Carolina.

I’ve always thought a bottle redemption law would be part of the answer to messy roadsides. But requiring a refundable deposit on bottles and cans would only get at part of the problem – the stuff folks willingly toss out the window. It wouldn’t get at the stuff that blows accidentally out of construction or debris trucks. The state occasionally writes a ticket for the heavy stuff, but not often – less than once a month, Dianne Whitacre of The Charlotte Observer reported last year (story). Nine of them got off.

I don’t know if the answer is a campaign like the Don’t-Mess-With Texas program the Lone Star State launched some years ago, or a bottle and can redemption bill, or a crackdown by law enforcement, or all the above. Maybe we ought to hold a messiest roadside contest. Send me your nominees, and pictures if you have them. Perhaps we can get folks to understand how roadsides really look.

I do know that there are a lot of volunteer cleanup efforts under way every day. The state spends millions of dollars cleaning up when it might otherwise put that money to use repaving highways or otherwise keeping up with construction backlogs.

And I do know this: For a beautiful state, we’re just a mess.


tecki said...

You know, I love the Great NC as well.

But I'm more concerned about a different kind of trash than what you're talking about. I'm worried about the architectural trash we've thrown all over the state: ugly office parks, strip malls, shopping malls, cookie-cutter houses and giant parking lots that mar the state we both love.

I'm not against suburbs. I live in a suburban neighborhood in Baltimore right now -- but it was built 100 years ago, back when we still knew how to build. Lots of sidewalks, small stores to walk to, a grid of streets. Just like Dilworth, Plaza-Midwood or any of the other streetcar suburbs in Charlotte.

These neighborhoods are beautiful, and so are the urban centers of NC, like Uptown Charlotte or Downtown Asheville. Places people can be proud of. No one can be proud of a sprawling wasteland.

Maybe if NC built its cities and suburbs like we used to, people would be too ashamed to throw trash around.

what do you think?

Les Grattan said...

I've called the city to sign up adopt a street (pick up litter) but nobody returned my call. Do you have a way I can do this?

thank you in advance,
Les Grattan

Les Grattan said...

I called the city to sign up to adopt a road and nobody called me back. Do you have a way I can do this?
thank you in advance,
Les Grattan

marcgustafson said...

I've often thought on this exact subject as I travel to the mountains or to the coast. What do you think about organizing one day a year to get North Carolinians out to clean these highways (NC 321, 421, 74, 601 for example)? We could call on an elder statesman or two (maybe Hugh Morton or Wendell Murphy) to be the faces of this campaign. I can just see cars parked along these roads on their way to the mountains or the beach, families out picking up trash instead of rushing to get somewhere, and being proud of this beautiful state we live in.

billy said...

It's a problem all over. Where I live (northern Iredell), the Sheriff had the local inmates cleaning up my road and they did a good job too. It is now a week later and it looks like most of the trash has found it's way back.
Unless people suddenly decide to not throw trash out their vehicles, it is going to continue.
It would probably take a fine of $1000 and having to pick up garbage while wearing a shirt that says "I litter and now look at me".

I don't know what the answer is but something needs to be done.

I agree with you tecki, but it's up to the zoning and planning departments to control your type of trash. It's up to citizens to apply pressure to these departments to do the right thing. Many zoning boards have a hard time telling property owners what they can do with their own property. But if enough people show up at these meetings things can be done.

jackfretts said...

Well, Jack, you got me started. Hope I don't bore you to tears. I have been involved in Adopt -A-Stream for more than 5 years in and along side a creek in my neighborhood. Other neighbors and I have pulled tons of litter from our creek. Among the more interesting items (besides the usual tires, drink bottles/cans, golf balls, shopping bags, blankets, rugs, snack food wrappers, cigarette/cigar butts, lighters, all manner of batteries, shoes, et cetera) were a car door and umpteen shopping carts. I'll get back to butts and shopping carts later.

But for now, let's begin with the trash generators; you, me, our neighbors, employers, businesses we support. Trash should be bagged when it is disposed of unless it is too bulky or heavy to be bagged. Our local ordinance pertaining to trash collection states so. But is it enforced? Hang around your neighborhood on trash pick up day and check out the trash collection vehicles as they make their rounds. I can wager that you will see trash cans emptied with all manner of loose items(styrofoam peanuts used for package shipments, shredded documents, et cetera) flying in the breeze even on a calm day. Those items land around the trash collection vehicle or on top or along other parts of the trash collection vehicle. It is not the responsibility of the trash truck driver to pick up that mess. It is the home owner, business owner responsibility. But how many people go out to their street or parking lot and pick up that left over debris? It just blows along our streets, into our storm drains(and people wonder why their streets flood when it rains) and into our creeks, and other waterways. Or the trash blows off the trucks as they go to the landfill.

As for shopping carts: At one time a neighbor and I pulled 10 shopping carts from our creek in one day. Most shopping centers have signs posted that state, "removing shopping carts from the premises is illegal". But is it enforced? No, so stealing shopping carts has become a de facto acceptance. In our city, shopping carts abandoned away from their rightful owners is considered a litter problem. I think they are a crime problem. If someone will brazenly steal a shopping cart (worth what, $100?) in full view of hundreds of witnesses, what will they do in the dark of night?

Now, what about cigarette butts? Personally I think anyone purchasing cigarettes or cigars should be required to provide a DNA sample to a central government clearing house, Big Brother. Next time you're stopped at an intersection or exit ramp, look around at the hundreds of cigarette butts scattered on the pavement or road/street side. One wonders why more fires aren't started by these discarded butts.

Wannabe Slim said...

Betts writes:"enough beer bottles to have catered a lacrosse team party"
Gee - a hack that thinks an alleged gang rape is funny.
Who's the real trash in his simplistic blog?

jackfretts said...

This morning as I went out to get my newspaper, with umbrella deployed to protect against cascading inch worms and their brethren's detritus, I noticed a cassette reel in the street, broken apart with tape strewn about. When I picked up the cassette reel cover, I noticed someone had written on it "Gospels Greats". Wonder if one of the greats was Shall We Litter On The Road To Salvation.

Jack Betts said...

tecki asks about architecture. Amen, brother -- or sister! I'm a big fan of Asheville, in particular. But I live in what used to be North Raleigh, until the chamber of commerce redesignated it Midtown Raleigh not long ago. Moving on up, I guess.
Also: les gratton asked about who to call at the City of Charlotte about volunteer litter picking. I'm told the person is Brenda Barger at 704-432-1772.

Jimmy Mac said...

Jack the person to call for adopt a street is as follow:
Elissa Gilleland
Keep Charlotte Beautiful
Brenda Barger is also a member of this group.

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