The Union Recorder

February 19, 2014

Culture shift essential to curb littering

The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Over the past few months a small group of local volunteers has worked to breath new life into the Keep Milledgeville-Baldwin Beautiful initiative.

But they can’t do it alone — and they shouldn’t be charged with that responsibility. Whether we realize it or not, unsightly displays along roadsides, in neighborhoods and near our corridors affects everyone — and it affects the way others view all of Baldwin County. When we think about it in these terms we should all see the need to bring this issue into everyone’s focus.

Only then, when litter shifts into the purview of the entire community’s focus, will we see lasting change.

Anyone who takes a short drive around town can see fairly quickly that support for a community-wide litter initiative is sorely needed. Yet, groups and efforts have formed in the past but eventually lost momentum and fallen by the wayside due to lack of support. The reality is, however, that in order to be truly effective the efforts mustn’t be about cleanup alone.

We must work from the grassroots to change the culture of the community so that we all realize the consequences of litter and want to do better by our own community.

Educating people is the primary step. Education is needed on all age levels to prevent litter from ever forming. One solution might be taking the anti-littering message into classrooms, where volunteers speak to young people about the harmful impact. Reaching the youth also provides an avenue to reach adults as well because the students can help educate their parents. Perhaps local garden clubs can also get involved, and other nonprofits should be included in the education component as well.

Another way to get the word out could be signage; putting up billboards and other signs around town detailing the consequences of littering — and contact information on how to report the crime when we see others in the act.

People often forget that littering is first and foremost a crime and that millions of dollars each year are spent addressing the issue. We don’t often think about this when we’re driving along or tossing a bottle or can out the window.

Cleanups, spearheaded by the volunteers, a number of whom are members of the local Young Professionals organization, have been conducted at the industrial park and at the airport. Yet, their efforts seem to continue to fall under the radar. Signage could also help to generate more awareness about these efforts and get more volunteers involved.

Corridors are of particular significance because they usher in visitors to a community and help to form their first impression. No one should want that first impression to be one with roadways strewn with litter. Placing signs at these locations could serve as another reminder.

How a community looks has a key impact into the overall quality of life. Communities littered with trash reflect disregard or unconcern not only for the physical environment, damaging neighborhoods’ natural beauty, but it also negatively impacts property values and oftentimes gives off the impression that local residents simply do not care.

Research indicates that the average American throws out 4.5 pounds of trash and litter a day. Given the volume of trash that is already there, one can only imagine the result if everyone discarded even half of that amount along our roadways.

Whether we realize it or not litter is a reflection on all of us. It’s like inviting people to our home and allowing them to trash it. Why would anyone want that?

We must change the community culture from top to bottom on littering through education and awareness in order to put a stop to it.