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Litter Clean Up Needs Help And Yes, It Is Worse In Recent Years

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Students at Cliffside Elementary pose with pride behind the huge bags of trash they were able to clean from nearby roadsides after one of the clean sweeps.

(Editor's note: a number of our readers and customers have asked us to find out what we can about the current litter problem and what's being done about it. Here's what we learned.)

Litter is ugly, pollutes water and land, and is born of a general disregard for creation.

Cuts in DOT funding for roadside pick up crews have caused litter to pile higher and wider.

Dads who have failed to pay child support no longer serve on pickup crews.

Jenna Bailey, who directs the Keep Rutherford County Beautiful effort, says there is no question things have gotten worse during recent years.

But her organization is a front-line, hard-at-it effort to clean up the mess. Hundreds of volunteers have stepped up to pick up litter. Eight tons of roadside litter were picked up in a recent clean-sweep effort that involved 600 volunteers. Local businesses are involved in the effort. And maybe the best news in this story, "We talk to third graders," Bailey said. "After all, if all we do is pick it up, it's just gonna come right back."

Seventy-five third graders recently built recyclebots, figures made of recyclable materials to create art and encourage recycling.

Retired journalist and local farmer Larry McDermott said, "As long as there are no consequences, there will be no improvement, and the disgraceful trashing of our beautiful area will continue. I'm sure our elected county and town officials care, but I wonder if they have the moxie to effect change. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words."

One local woman, who asked not to be named, said she has a neighbor who drops household garbage in a curve near her home, "Every two or three days."

Life-long environmental activist and businessman Bruce Byers said, "It says something about the culture around here, unfortunately."

RHI Director and community visionary Jill Ware Miracle said, "Agencies in our county spend so much time and effort on creating places where our citizens want to live and others want to visit. All of that can be undone when our community looks like it just doesn't care. Littering is very costly to our image. Please show that you care!"

Show you care? It feels like a constant battle between those who throw it out and those who pick it up.

But those third graders offer hope.

Marnie Justice Beaver said, "Rutherford County is too great to treat like trash - please put it in its place."

The roots of the problem run to a failure to recycle, reuse, and repurpose what we consider to be "trash." It doesn't have to be, but as Miracle encouraged us, we have to show we care.

Carolina Edwards said it is, "simply a matter of respect."

Former County Commissioner Tony Helton asked, "Why have we decided as a community that it is okay to litter?"

Former county commissioner candidate Susie Davies Bostic said, "I'm reminded of the old commercial where a Native American is standing along a road, and a group of kids in a car throw trash out onto him. You see tears from his eyes. It is a disgrace and total disrespect of the earth which gives us what we need to survive. We all need to be good stewards of this earth we have been blessed to live upon."

While piece by piece, the conflict goes on between those who care and those who don't, there is no question that efforts by Keep Rutherford County Beautiful are making a difference.

Many local folks saw the word "Think" spelled out in giant letters made of litter along the Purple Martin and Rail Trails in recent weeks. Maybe that helped, although efforts to keep these trails free of litter have also proved challenging.

David Cameron sent a shout out to James Kilgo, the county's solid waste manager, for taking the county from 35th as "best recycler," up into the mid-teens. There is no question recycling is a key to curing the problem and many in the area are fanatics for the cause.

Kilgo said very rarely does recyclable material end up in the landfill. Those rare occasions are prompted by contaminates that get into the material. It does not happen often.

He also said almost all recyclables from Rutherford County stay in America. China gets very little.

In terms of what Kilgo and his coworker do to promote recycling, he said, "We work with local municipalities, county schools and the public to promote recycling. We have created new brochures that are simple and easy to understand so people will know what can be recycled and what not to recycle. We switched from source separated recycling to comingled recycling to allow every citizen an opportunity to participate in a recycling program that is easy and convenient."

The county's chief deputy Warren Sprouse said his officers will charge those who create large scale trash dumps illegally and he even recalled dealing with a trash hauler who had dropped a bag by the side of the road. He said the guy went back and got the bag and cleaned up all around it. He added that many people don't realize a bag has fallen off a load and most are willing to go back and clean up their messes.

Trash falling off loads goes to the issue of tarping loads. Bailey said the state is struggling to create legislation requiring loads of trash to be covered with tarps.

To learn more about how to help in Rutherford County, go to the website for Keep Rutherford County Beautiful at keeprcncbeautiful.org.

Jess Kerr, who works with both Keep Rutherford County Beautiful and the Rutherford Outdoor Coalition, said the recent effort to clean up local rivers resulted in 600 pounds of trash being collected.

"We pull lots of tires out of rivers," she said.

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