No easy answers cleaning up the roadside trash
RALEIGH -- Some years back, former state Sen. Charlie Albertson wrote a jingle for the state intended to deter roadside littering.
"I love Carolina. I know you do too. If we want it looking good, we've got work to do," the country crooner sang.
Apparently, not a lot of people were listening.
It seems that the state Department of Transportation is having trouble finding enough people to pick up roadside trash, whether those people are prison inmates, involved with civic organizations, or come from corporate sponsors of private roadside clean-up.
More than 4,600 civic organizations and volunteer groups picked up some 3.4 million pounds of trash along 12,000 miles of state roads last year. People fulfilling community service work requirements collected another 2.3 million pounds, while prison work crews collected 878,000 pounds.
Because of state budget cuts, fewer prison work crews make the rounds along state roads these days, meaning the amount of litter that they are collecting is declining.
The state's Sponsor-A-Highway program, where companies pay a sponsorship fee to a vendor which then arranges for roadside litter collection, is trying to find more sponsors to make up for the declining prison-crew clean-ups.
Albertson, though, had another idea to reduce litter -- impose tougher fines on litterbugs.
It's an idea that pops up every few years at the legislature.
In 2011, another state senator, David Rouzer, who is currently running for Congress, pushed the proposition of harsh fines to get rid of roadside littering.
Initial littering fines under his proposed bill would have been set at $1,000 to $4,000. Repeat violators could have been fined as much as $8,000, with a 12-hour community service requirement the only way out of the fines.
Right now, initial fines are typically $100 to $250 unless the littering involves the dumping of larger amounts of trash.
The bill passed the Senate, but didn't go anywhere in the House.
In addition to the roadside clean-up and littering fines, the state also engages in some gentle nudging to try to keep roadsides clean. Its Swat-A-Litterbug program allows private individuals to report roadside littering, with offenders sent a letter reminding them of potential fines and the desire to avoid trashed-up roadways.
When I was a kid, keeping the roadways picked up of trash could be a pretty profitable exercise.
Back then, before the advent of the plastic soda bottle, glass soda bottles could be redeemed for a nickel deposit. At a time when a dollar could buy substantial loot in a store's snack and candy aisle, kids made a habit of collecting bottles from roadsides. Scout and 4-H groups also saw profit in roadside trash collection.
A few years back, another state senator, Doug Berger, suggested that we return to those days with a 10-cent deposit on cans and plastic bottles.
His idea also didn't go anywhere either.
Maybe it's because you can't stand in the way of progress.
Or is that regress?