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Josh Bergeron: Roadside litter easy to prevent

It’s simple. Put waste in its place.

Whether a result of apathy for the world that surrounds us or laziness, our roadsides are peppered with litter, from plastic containers to actual bags of garbage, in far too many cases.

Meanwhile, anything from paper receipts to half-eaten food can be found intermittently in parking lots of the stores we frequent, regardless of the prices of the items inside.

It’s as if people think, “OK, I’m done with this now” and throw items out of a car window or set them down on the asphalt parking lot adjacent to their car.

As I’m still getting settled in Salisbury, I find myself making occasional trips to the store to buy odds and ends — light bulbs, new towels or a new shower curtain, for example. And, while the trend seems to be present in all of the other places I’ve lived, one incident, in particular, drew my attention last week.

Picking up a few things at Walmart, I was greeted by a few plastic wrappers drifting around the parking lot like tumbleweeds, what appeared to be a half-eaten sandwich and small box that looked to be wrapping for a product someone purchased.

Then, during Friday’s county commissioners retreat, Rowan County’s Environmental Management Director Caleb Sinclair gave a statistic that caught my attention and, I hope, grabbed county commissioners’ attention, too. On just one strip of road, a county program collected 900 pounds of trash in just three days.

Though it’s not usually a half-eaten sandwich, it’s not uncommon to see plastic trash on roadsides and parking lots, as indicated by 900 pounds being collected in just a few days. The world is not, or should not, be a garbage can in which we can randomly discard our trash, including cigarette butts.

Sure, 900 pounds is especially surprising if it’s a rural road in a residential area and less so if it’s a busy thoroughfare like South Main Street. Still, that it’s possible to collect several hundred pounds of garbage in a period of three days should be appalling.

The sad reality is that some of our fellow citizens feel no sense of shared responsibility for our environment.

Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds suggested to Sinclair that the county make a special effort to clean up roads when economic development prospects are coming for a visit, but we shouldn’t just do it for outsiders looking to bring a business here. Keeping our roads clean shows we care about our community and it makes local residents feel better about the community in which they live, too.

Sure, sometimes a raccoon, feral cat or other animal gets into a trash can and flails the contents out of the container, but a solution to  litter on roadways is as easy as resolving to find a container to put garbage.

Animals may confusing bits of plastic for food. And, trash often finds its way into our rivers and streams. I’m certain boaters on High Rock Lake aren’t seeking a side of plastic to go along with an afternoon on the water.

Sinclair said the solution is raising awareness. Commissioner Judy Klusman said it’s a cultural problem and we must educate our children about why it’s wrong.

One potential solution already in place is N.C. DOT’s Adopt-a-Highway program — a response to public concern about debris along roadways. As stated on the program’s website, there’s no fee to be part of the program.

The Department of Transportation asks volunteer groups to commit at least four years to a 2-mile stretch of roadways. Unfortunately, there are many roads that are not sponsored and will never be. There are just too many.

But there’s a permanent fix that doesn’t require special programs — put waste in its place.

Curbside service isn’t necessary to recycle in Rowan County. There are recycling sites across Rowan County. One popular one is located at 1455 Julian Road, next to the animal shelter. And, for anything that can’t be recycled, save it for a trash can rather than a parking lot or roadside.

For more information about landfill and recycling services, visit rowan County Environmental Management’s website at rowancountync.gov/512/Environmental-Management.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post. Email him at josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com.

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