My Turn, Ashley Honbarrier: Group cleans up mess from those who treat Rowan County like a dump

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 16, 2021

By Ashley Honbarrier

We have been reading several letters sent in regarding the litter issue. Sadly, this is not new. It has been a problem for quite some time, and it seems that the only thing changed is it has gotten worse.

I would like to add to Josh Bergeron’s article from earlier this month titled, “What programs exists for litter cleanup?” I feel that an important group was left out: our community members and the “Clean Up Rowan County” group.

A little over a year ago, we formed a Facebook group called “Clean Up Salisbury,” which not long after was changed to “Clean Up Rowan County” since many of our volunteer litter sweeps have covered rural areas outside of city limits as well. We considered forming a “Keep Rowan County Beautiful” chapter (a branch of the well known nationwide ‘Keep America Beautiful’ organization), but that name with the current appearance just seemed like a joke. We need to clean it up in order to “keep” it beautiful.

In the past year, we have provided all our own trash bags, litter grabbers, gloves, safety vests and dispose of all the collected trash at our own expense. We have picked up thousands of pounds of trash in just this past year.

This group has been a huge element to tending to our local pollution and litter crisis. Weather providing, some Salisbury/Rowan County citizens pick up litter daily. I will name a few in particular: Julie Apone and Mike and Susan Williams, who cleaned for three hours one Friday morning. I asked our group for help that afternoon. Mike and Susan then came my rescue and cleaned another two hours with me! These people deserve a good citizen award!

We also have had local school children volunteer with us for litter cleanups. What’s even more disheartening than the litter itself is when we clean a road and, that very afternoon, find more trash thrown out again. This is why we had yard signs made, which you might have seen around town, to tag our work in hopes to get a point across. What concerns me the most is that the children will get fed up with it, too, because they see no point if it’s just going to be littered again that same day.

One thing that needs to change is the mentality of “Not my trash. Not my responsibility.” Litter is inevitable. On top of being a consumerist and wasteful society, some litter is also accidental. I think the majority of us have had some trash blown out of our hand, car or truck bed, trash can, dumpster or whatever. We will always need to do our own part to help keep our environment clean. When the attitude changes that it is someone else’s trash and someone else’s responsibility, I think we’ll start to see some real change.

After several complaints and reports, we spent some time recently tackling the area behind Dunkin’ Donuts and Walgreens on Jake Alexander Boulevard. More than half of the 13 bags collected were Dunkin’ Donuts cups, lids and straws. When I introduced myself and asked about the litter, the manager said, “That’s not our property.”

Interesting, but the stacks and stacks and stacks of plastic cups that say “Dunkin’ Donuts” aren’t concerning?

Waste in general is extremely concerning. We all need to be more conscious of what we use, consume, and dispose of daily. The majority of what we cleanup include fast food cups, lids, straws, styrofoam containers, drink bottles, alcohol bottles, cigarettes packs and butts and lottery tickets. All these companies have money — lots of money. Corporations should finally be held accountable for the waste they’re putting out into this world. Furthermore, we need businesses to convert to using more sustainable products and packaging such as biodegradable plastic bags and compostable take-away containers. I think we should all take into consideration that there are also areas with a litter tax. And it is helping. We all know Rowan County does not want to deal with another tax, but will it be necessary to solve this problem?

Our core members recommend forming an Environmental Committee for Rowan County. This committee would consist of local leaders, waste management and environmental nonprofit representatives. We would compile, share and study our data to come up with the solutions and specific action necessary to tackle this problem and hopefully create a cleaner and greener community for all. Our natural resources and health of our community are too precious to be treated like a dump. Outside is not a trash can.

Ashley Honbarrier is co-founder and director of local nonprofit Happy Roots, which manages local school and community gardens and encourages environmental stewardship.