Dan Geddings: Nobody cares about Sumter's litter problem


Giant oaks towered overhead and small patches of switch cane covered portions of the higher land. The leaf litter was washed away from the ground by recent high waters, and deer tracks were punched into the soft, damp soil. I could see for hundreds of yards through the open bottomland forest. I was on a remote ridge in the upper Santee Swamp, and it was breathtakingly beautiful.

My brother-in-law Johnny Harrington and I had hunted ducks earlier, out in Pine Island Creek, and now Johnny was taking a nap in the boat, while I was out exploring. I felt like an ancient explorer looking at a virgin land where no man had tread in modern times, then something seemingly out of place caught my eye. A large tree had uprooted and fallen into a cane patch. There was something dingy white in the tangle of branches and cane. I walked closer, then stopped in disbelief.

Pieces of a large white Styrofoam cooler were wedged into the downed treetop and thicket of canes. There were other pieces of trash, probably from a campsite, caught up in the tangle. My fantasy was shattered, and I was saddened. This trash was such a vile intrusion into such a pristine natural landscape. No roads or buildings were within miles of this place.

At first, I wondered, "How did this stuff get here?" But of course, I knew. Somewhere upstream it had been left behind or thrown out, and high water had washed it down stream and over this low ridge, where it was caught and left on display. I broke the cooler up into smaller pieces and stuffed it and the other trash into the back of my hunting vest. I could not leave it behind.

I have traveled all over the United States and to foreign countries, but I have never seen litter and trash like we have here. I lived in Colorado for two years and recently returned for a visit. Litter is not a thing there. It does not exist. There is a different culture out there. One that does not tolerate garbage on the land and along the roadways. Once you leave the east, there is almost no roadside trash. The Midwest and West don't have a litter problem like we have here. I've been to Japan and South Korea. It is clean there. People even sweep the sidewalks daily. Have you ever seen someone sweep the sidewalks here?

The only thing that I can figure is that here, nobody cares. But of course, I do, and a few others. There have been some impassioned letters on the subject in the paper lately, and a city and county panel has been commissioned.

But will anything come of it? Or will it all be just more lip service, like I've seen all my life? Nothing tangible has ever been done. An occasional litter pickup event doesn't help. If you picked up behind your kids, would they ever learn good habits?

I don't like to see litter in the woods where I hunt or in the lakes and rivers where I fish, and I don't like to see litter strewn down all the roads I travel. Legislation and ordinances, fines and penalties and public outreach can't solve the problem alone. The culture will have to change. We need to start with the schools and think outside the box because obviously nothing we've done before has worked.

Much of the roadside trash here is from fast food restaurants, convenience stores and even furniture and appliance stores. Yes, people do throw couches, mattresses and TVs into the roadside ditches. Ever wonder why? Maybe it's because the recycling centers operate on such a limited schedule. Try going to one on a Sunday morning or a Tuesday or Thursday. Law enforcement works 24/7 and hospitals work 24/7. Many retail stores operate 24/7. Why not trash collection?

Since retail stores supply the material for most of the litter, why not take a few pennies or add a few pennies to the cost of a retail license? That money could be used to work on solutions such as extended hours at the recycling centers. Or better yet, require retailers to sponsor or conduct litter education and mitigation.

Maybe I'm stepping on some toes here, but something has to be done. I can't pick up all the trash by myself, or even with a few like-minded citizens. We need everybody.

Email Dan Geddings at cdgeddings@gmail.com.