Editorial: Throwing away money

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 18, 2016

Several people have written to the Post lately to express disgust over litter, including the readers whose letters are on the Opinion page today. If the sight of trash on the side of the road makes you sick, wait until you hear how much North Carolina spends picking it up.

Sit down. It’s about $16 million a year.

Pat Ivey, division engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation, answered Post questions about local litter on Wednesday.

“The proliferation of litter on state roadways is definitely a statewide issue, not just in Rowan County,” Ivey said in an email. “On average, NCDOT spends approximately $16 million every year on litter control efforts in North Carolina.”

Ivey breaks down the $16 million like this: $9 million for inmate litter pickup on state roads, $4.6 million on litter control by DOT forces across the state, $300,000 on Adopt-a-Highway and Sponsor-a-Highway programs, and so on.

In Rowan County, $21,500 of state road maintenance funds have been spent so far this fiscal year on litter control, Ivey said, and the total for the year will be about  $45,000. That doesn’t include debris pickup by the state on interstate highways.

That’s all well and good. Think of the money that could be saved, though, if people would simply dispose of trash correctly in the first place. Littering is against the law; penalties include fines and community service. But identifying culprits is not easy.   

In the end, the people who are punished are the ones who see their neighborhood and community go downhill, one bag of fast-food wrappers or one beer can at a time. 

To be part of the solution:

• Don’t litter.

• Teach your children to discard trash responsibly. 

• Volunteer to pick up litter through the Adopt-a-Highway program on keepncbeautiful.org.

• Take part in the statewide Litter Sweep scheduled April 16-30.

• If you see someone toss litter from a vehicle, report the license plate number to the state’s Swat-a-Litterbug program. Use a form on the DOT website or call 1-877-DOT-4YOU. (To obtain Swat-a-Litterbug cards, call 1-800-331-5864.)

People who litter may see it as harmless. Maybe they believe they’re being carefree or making a statement of rebellion. In fact, though, litterers are throwing away taxpayers’ money that could be better spent in countless ways, and they’re hurting the community in the process. How utterly selfish.