Clarke County Citizens Against Litter is taking no prisoners in its war against litter.
The group, a part of Alabama People Against a Littered State (PALS), officially formed in 2003 when Walter Davis and Rita Wilson attended a county commission meeting to address littering on county roadsides.
Davis said apart from being an eyesore, litter can have a much deeper economic impact.
“I gave an example if you were driving through this county or any other, and if you have to stop to use a restroom and it’s a disaster, you’re not going to use it,” he said. “You’ll go to the next location that has something better to offer. It’s the same principle about your environment.”
As a result of the meeting, Commissioner Patricia DuBose was tasked with forming a committee to solve litter issues.
“This is one of the most unifying efforts in the county,” DuBose said “Everyone gets on board, and everyone has stayed committed since day one.”
DuBose said all Chamber of Commerce directors in the county are on the committee as well as various state agency members.
“We started with a salary for a litter control officer from the sheriff’s department,” said Dubose, who also serves on the PALS state board of directors. “When we showed good results, the road and bridge department created a crew for us, so now we have two crews cleaning up.”
The group secured a grant from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) in 2010, which they used to hire another litter control officer and rent equipment. DuBose said it helps strengthen the committee’s three E’s: education, enforcement and eradication.
Through education efforts, committee members have worked with local newspapers and radio stations; sponsored anti-litter poster and essay contests in schools; and sponsored booths at various festivals in the county.
“In September, we have the Litter Awareness Week—that’s primarily education,” said Grove Hill Chamber of Commerce President Cheryl Horton. “We reach out to all the kindergarten-4th-grade students because we believe education is the key to preventing littering.”
Eradication involves spring and fall cleanups that draw thousands of volunteers, as well as participants in the Adopt-A-Mile program. The committee is responsible for 29 miles of roadside, higher than the 15-mile county average in Alabama.
Horton said enforcement is the hardest part, because officers must see the action take place to enforce the law.
To help enforce littering laws, the committee established a tip line.
“The tip line goes through 9-1-1, but it goes to Kendall Bush, our state environmental officer,” said Wilson, who cochairs the committee. “As members of the committee we’ve gone to dump sites, and I’ve personally called people and told them unless they want to be fined or go to jail they need to clean their mess up right now.”
Members agree cleanliness helps the overall image of their town and county.
“The Clarke County PALS chapter is a great example of what can happen when the community unites to fight litter,” said PALS State Chairman Jeff Helms, who also is communications director for the Alabama Farmers Federation. “Littering is contagious. When residents see roadside trash and dump sites, they think ‘What difference does one more bottle or bag make?’ But when people start seeing the results of anti-litter programs, they develop greater community pride and are less inclined to contribute to the problem.”
Alfa and the Alabama Farmers Federation co-sponsor the PALS Clean Campus program with the Alabama Farmers Cooperative.
Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce Director Carolyn Carpenter said the economic benefits of the anti-littering programs are clear.
“A lady called me from Bonifay, Fla. the other day, and said ‘We love to come there—it’s the cleanest, neatest place,’” Carpenter said.
Amy Prescott, executive director of Thomasville Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Carpenter.
“Thomasville is really growing right now, and we attribute that to the appearance of the community,” Prescott said. “Not just the buildings, but also planting flowers and beautifying the city.”
Farmers are benefitting as well, said Luis Cruz-Arroyo, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
“Our local farmers are really good stewards of the land,” Cruz-Arroyo said. “We don’t have a lot of farmers, but they’re involved on different committees with us in soil, sand and water conservation districts. For them, water quality is a big issue, so they support any initiative that will help.”