Editorial: Campaign puts target on litterbugs

Mar. 10, 2014 @ 11:20 PM

When coal ash spilled into the Dan River, threatening our drinking water from Kerr Lake, the howling could be heard for miles.

How could they do it? How could it be allowed to happen? The damage, so many believe, will be devastating.

And perhaps the angry and frustrated voices are right. The cost to clean up is estimated at $1 billion.

But guess what? North Carolinians are already throwing away about $16 million annually when we litter our state.

We can’t afford that either, and this particular problem is no less significant. Monday’s launch of Litter Free N.C. by the state Department of Public Safety provided the details.

Litter causes safety hazards and puts unnecessary risks on wildlife and motorists. It harms the habitat of our animals and pollutes the environment.

How bad are we? Try 7 million pounds of litter just on the roadsides between January and December of last year.

Fruit scraps, like apple cores and banana peels we might discard, can draw animals to the roads and cause crashes. Cargo lost in transportation often isn’t picked up. Cardboard, for example, takes two months to decompose.

Cigarette butts, which take 12 years to decompose, account for 38 percent of roadside litter, put lead and arsenic into the soil and water, and can block drainage producing floodwaters.

The trash bags flying through the air can hinder vision, or take from 20 to 1,000 years to decompose.

Our laws haven’t served as enough deterrent. And we don’t see a change coming anytime soon. The fine can be $1,000 if seen by law enforcement, up to $2,000 for a second offense.

We have to change the mindset of our friends and colleagues.

We’ve got to take responsibility. We’ve got to make sure that littering is unacceptable, and just as sternly as we want to make sure Duke Energy or any other company doesn’t litter our waters.

Duke is going to clean up the Dan River coal ash spill. But how about us? Are we going to be diligent behind ourselves?

We must if we want to protect the land on which we live. We must make it a priority to educate everyone on the harmful effects.

We must keep North Carolina litter-free.