I was driving home on McCrays Mill Road a few weeks ago and saw an all-too-familiar sight - several bags of garbage dumped on the side of the road at regular intervals. Did they fall off the back of a truck, or did someone just toss them there instead of visiting the recycling center a mere three miles away? I'd like to believe the owner of that trash had no idea it ended up on McCrays Mill Road, but sadly that's probably not the case.
What makes people decide that the world is their trash can? Do they treat their homes the same way, just throwing dirty napkins and empty boxes wherever they feel like it? Even animals won't soil their nests; why do we? According to PalmettoPride, a nonprofit organization that is a true public/private partnership with the stated goal of encouraging "behavioral change" in our citizens about litter, surveys suggest that over 80 percent of people who litter do so intentionally. So the big question is, how do we change this behavior?
Education is key. Many people don't realize the impact litter has on their community, probably most importantly the economic impact. When a new business or company is considering coming to your town, they look at everything from workforce to community pride. Litter shows that citizens just don't care about their community, so why would a new business want to be a part of that community?
Awareness is another important factor in changing behaviors. Some people truly don't understand the harm that a plastic water bottle thrown out the car window can do to their community. Besides the fact that it looks bad and harms property values, it takes 450 years for that bottle to decompose. Is that what we want to leave future generations, a planet full of old plastic?
When all else fails, enforcement is needed. Sometimes the only thing that can be done to keep a community litter-free is to fine the offenders. Getting caught littering in South Carolina will cost you a minimum of $200 and can include community service hours and jail time. As a concerned citizen, you can call 877-7LITTER to report litterers, or download the PalmettoPride Litter Busters app.
The bottom line is that we must all work together to clean up our communities. We must educate, we must be aware, and we must enforce. We must take care of what we are leaving our children. Let's work hard to make sure our problems aren't their problems.
Leigh Newman is the downtown development coordinator for the City of Sumter.
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