A cleaner state: Arkansans can fix litter problem

By Robert Phelps Special to the Democrat-Gazette, May 22, 2015

Reading letters on the pages of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s opinion section, one could get the idea that our beautiful Arkansas might have a litter problem. And worse, that not enough is being done to remediate it and prevent further occurrences. Let’s see.

Perception 1: Because litter can still be found across our state, Arkansas has a litter problem.

No, Arkansans have a littering problem. The attitudes, habits and behaviors that cause residents to regard our environment so callously by failing to manage their personal waste are still prevalent. And the results of their irresponsible actions are still painfully evident.

This is the problem that needs solving.

Perception 2: Litter in Arkansas is getting worse.

Not really. Actually, there are more residents today who are aware of littering and who are making a personal commitment toward preventing litter–and who volunteer to clean up public trash discarded by their thoughtless neighbors–than ever before. These Arkansans conscientiously reflect their pride in our state through respecting its prized natural beauty.

Each spring, March through May, the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission sponsors and promotes the Keep America Beautiful Great American Cleanup in Arkansas. This effort attracts tens of thousands of volunteers who pick up litter from roadsides, waterways, and parks and public areas, removing tons of misplaced trash. Local community waste-collection events help prevent many unwanted items from becoming public trash, and recycling events offer our garbage another useful life, saving energy, resources and landfill expense.

Additionally, every September and October, a second statewide volunteer-driven cleanup is undertaken, the Great Arkansas Cleanup. Again, similar events are held, with numbers of volunteers and results are recorded by the state’s communities during this end-of-summer campaign.

Perception 3: Not enough is being done to prevent littering.

As littering still occurs, it’s hard to argue the point; however, some very effective programs are in place that educate, engage and motivate residents toward improved behaviors to reinforce our Arkansas standards against littering.

In addition to the annual statewide cleanups, the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission maintains a year-round public information campaign to raise awareness of littering, to educate and inspire individuals to accept personal responsibility for their trash and to adopt improved behaviors in managing it. A variety of messages, targeted to different audiences, appeal to community pride and to the quality of life and values that we Arkansans attach to our respected, natural environment.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department maintains a toll-free, anonymous Litter Reporting Hotline to offer motorists a means to identify littering on any city street, county road or state highway. This program provides a direct educational message to any vehicle owner who has been observed causing litter, reminding them of our laws against these careless and costly actions. Since its inception in December 2004, more than 54,000 letters have been sent. Anyone can report littering they observe by calling (866) 811-1222.

With Arkansas’ 52,000-square-mile area, more than 16,000 miles of state roads and highways, and 2.6 million registered vehicles out of a population approaching 3 million, there will likely always be a need for governmental litter-control efforts. Unfortunately, actual litter-removal costs are intensified by the negative impressions of our state that litter presents to our visitors and relocation and development prospects, when considering the lost opportunities and investments these misconceptions represent.

Perception 4: It’s frustrating that there’s nothing we can do to improve the situation.

Frustrating, yes, but improving, also yes. The prospects for reduced littering in Arkansas are promising. Through increased public awareness of the harmful consequences of litter to a state economy driven by its attractiveness and a clean and green ethic, more motorists are being careful to properly dispose of their trash when traveling and visiting our beautiful, scenic Arkansas.

For Arkansas to reach its fullest potential in becoming unaccepting of littering and the attitudes that drive it, we must each resolve to take personal responsibility for our actions and to not contribute to littering through our behaviors.

People cause litter; people can stop it.

We can all keep a litter bag in our vehicles and dispose of our trash in a proper receptacle. We can secure everything in the bed of a pickup or an open vehicle to prevent it from becoming litter. We can act to encourage others to follow our example by picking up litter when we see it and disposing of it appropriately to model good stewardship. Additionally, we can volunteer to adopt a highway, street or spot, and join an organized cleanup effort in our neighborhood. We can become part of the solution rather than the problem.

And we can all work to teach our children to respect their surroundings and instill in them a love of our state and its communities. As we learn to appreciate our natural environmental beauty, we preserve our shared home, proclaim our justifiable pride in our state and protect our treasured quality of life.

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