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October 21, 2008

The Journal News

New York needs to tackle litter

Littered roadsides make places unattractive to tourists and shoppers, create safety hazards and can clog storm drains, leading to flooding. Research shows that 18 percent of litter ends up in waterways, contaminating water supplies, entrapping wildlife and degrading scenic values. The cost of litter removal burdens shopping center owners and local government, as well as volunteer groups - in Rockland alone, 4,000 volunteers participated in community cleanups coordinated by Keep Rockland Beautiful in 2008. Where does litter come from? What can we do?

The most important target of our litter prevention message is the habitual offender. It only takes one motorist "litterbug" or negligent property owner to foul the environment for all of us. In Rockland County, people can report the license plates of "litterbugs" to Keep Rockland Beautiful and, through our partnership with the Sheriff Department, vehicle owners will receive a warning letter. Keep Putnam Beautiful has a similar program.

According to Keep America Beautiful, motorist "litterbugs" account for about half of roadside litter. The other half comes from poor property maintenance. Keep Rockland Beautiful volunteers recently surveyed 67 shopping areas along Route 59 from Nyack to Suffern and found that businesses generally fail to keep Dumpsters covered or fenced in, two easy ways to stop litter. Worse, 22 centers had overflowing Dumpsters, and eight had no public trash cans out front.

We confront these local challenges in the absence of any serious litter prevention initiative at the state level, such as exists in Texas and other states. New York state's only real commitments to litter reduction are the state adopt-a-highway program and the returnable container act, or "Bottle Bill."

Highway adoption programs put business names on road signs in exchange for periodic cleanups, which is a great idea, but without any real public outreach, marketing or documentation of results the programs often suffer from poor compliance by the volunteers and lack of public awareness. How about a Web site, newsletter, prizes?

The "Bottle Bill" is a great anti-litter tool, but is dreadfully out of date since it does not cover water bottles, sports drinks and other beverages that did not exist in 1982 when the bill was passed. Also, millions in unclaimed nickel deposits disappear into the coffers of the beverage industry rather than supporting environmental projects. Annual efforts to pass a "Bigger Better Bottle Bill" seek to close these loopholes.

Local code enforcement, cleanup and education efforts would be much more effective as part of a statewide "Take Pride in New York" anti-litter initiative. Such an initiative would begin with a litter study to identify the most effective policies, offer a statewide "Dear Litterbug" warning service, grants for local projects and a media blitz for beauty. Surely there are some politicians out there willing to run with this idea?

The writer is executive director of Keep Rockland Beautiful Inc.


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