We see it everywhere. On our beaches, road sides and parks… even in our own neighborhoods. Unfortunately, litter is as ubiquitous as people themselves. Litter, or the improper disposal of waste items, is an issue both nationally and worldwide. Keep America Beautiful estimates Americans toss out more than 56 billion pieces of litter every year. But where does it come from? Studies show the majority of litter results from people throwing items out of car windows, improperly secured truck loads and careless pedestrians. Surprisingly, young people are the most likely to litter, especially those under 30 years of age.
Did You Know?
Tobacco products compose almost half of all litter found in the U.S.
But litter is much more than unsightly. Studies have shown heavily littered areas are more likely to be high crime, have lower property values and prevent businesses from relocating. In other words—no one wants to be around a mess. Waste items that make their way into waterways can easily pollute our drinking water, or end up in our oceans. According to National Geographic, over 16 billion pounds of litter enter our oceans annually, contributing to the five gyres of floating plastics in our oceans. The largest, floating west of North America, is estimated to be anywhere from the size of Texas to twice the size of the continental United States. Even scarier, many aquatic animals mistake these items for food, causing death or serious injury in birds, fish, turtles, and other creatures. Once these items make their way out to the ocean, the process of cleaning them up becomes increasingly complex, and exponentially more harmful to our environment. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Add in the cost of litter disposal in our communities, and one paints an even uglier picture. Litter costs Americans upwards of $11.5 billion a year, with much of the burden falling on taxpayer dollars. The majority of litter here in Alachua County is picked up by roadwork crews and government employees, detracting from time they could be spending on other projects while costing taxpayers. Oscar Green, a member of Alachua County’s Road and Bridge Crew, has been working with roads in Alachua County for almost four years. Green spends most of his days collecting roadside litter, picking up everything from fast food packaging and styrofoam containers to trash bags that have blown off of garbage trucks. Green explains, “As a county employee, we’re obligated to help keep this county clean.” Green is one of many laborers responsible for maintaining our roads, but litter cleanup is becoming an increasingly dominant portion of their duties. “Mostly it’s a lot of manpower—our manpower, our fuel. And we could be doing something else… maintaining roads in Alachua County, something besides picking up garbage.”
Though maintenance crews serve a prominent role in reducing litter, several organizations within the county are also making strides to clean up our community. Keep Alachua County Beautiful (KACB), our local chapter of Keep America Beautiful, coordinates projects year round to clean and beautify our parks, roads and open spaces. Gina Hawkins, the executive director of KACB, has spent the past 24 years educating people to think before they throw. Hawkins has mobilized thousands of volunteers countywide to clean up our community. Hawkins states, “Volunteers are what makes the difference. Without volunteers, there is no way maintenance crews could keep up.” Yet litter is still a mounting issue within our community.
Have each person in your family pick up three pieces of litter a day for a week. Your help makes all the difference!
Looking forward, Hawkins hopes to have the support of law enforcement as a means to tighten controls on littering. Hawkins comments, “Cleaning up our community is much more meaningful than just the aesthetic. Where there’s more litter, there is more crime. By cleaning up these communities, it sends a message: this is a place where people care.” She continues, “I’m not aware of any citations that have been written for littering, even though there is a fairly hefty fine. They don’t view it as an important infraction, but in fact, it affects crime rates.”
The true cost of littering in our community is difficult to measure. Though numerous studies describing the economic impact of litter have been produced, Hawkins argues that some things cannot be assessed in terms of dollars. “How much benefit do you put on seeing a sunset without having trash in front of you? How do you put a benefit on that?” Whichever way one chooses to look at it, litter leaves us a legacy with no easy answers. Below, we have provided several ways for you and your family to get involved and make Alachua County a cleaner place.
Litter Prevention Tips:
- Keep a trash bag in your vehicle to contain waste
- Make sure to properly cover and secure truck loads to prevent flyaways
- Educate your family on the importance of responsible waste disposal
- If you are a smoker, keep an ashtray on hand. Do not flick your cigarette butts!
- When you see litter, pick it up!
Cleanups are a fun way to get outside while making your community a more beautiful place. Here are some organizations in town that are always looking for volunteers:
- Keep Alachua County Beautiful does cleanups of parks and communities within Alachua County, and is always seeking volunteers. Call (352) 371-9444 or visit www.kacb.org for more information.
- Current Problems performs regular cleanups of our waterways in North Florida. You can volunteer by calling (352) 215-7554 or visiting their website at www.currentproblems.org.
- The Adopt-A-Street Program asks volunteer groups to clean up litter on sections of road within the City of Gainesville. If you are interested in participating, contact the Solid Waste Division at 352-393-7964.
- Alachua County Forever matches volunteers with cleanups in your area. Call 352-264-6800 for details.
If you see litter, please report it to Keep Alachua County Beautiful at (352) 371-9444.