DeKalb County is home to a multitude of natural sites such as lakes, and rivers but along with those sites, it's also home to people’s casual or deliberate littering.
While driving through communities, the amount of “eyesore” litter from plastic to random items can be seen on various roads.
As reported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, common trash from consumer goods makes up most of what eventually becomes marine debris, polluting waterways and oceans. The presence of plastic in the aquatic environment, among other places, is of increasing concern because of their persistence and effect on the environment, wildlife and human health.
President and CEO of DeKalb Tourism John Dersham said the litter problem has been an ongoing issue that is getting "worse and worse."
He said part of the reason is the county has a lot more “day trippers” coming in and there is also the issue of plastic bags and rubbish flying off the back of vehicles.
“It’s a turnoff for people who are buying lodging here and coming here for their vacations. We hear about it all the time,” said Dersham.
An excess amount of litter can be seen on various gap roads. Dersham said it's especially noticeable in the winter months when the grasslands are not there to shelter it.
“People throw out their trash when they think nobody sees them. The roads are literally lined with litter,” he said.
According to the Alabama State Legislature, In 2019, the state legislature passed a law upgrading littering from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor.
The fine for the first conviction is up to $500. Any subsequent conviction includes either a fine of p to $1,000 and up to 100 hours of community service in the form of picking up litter along highways, roads, streets, public rights-of-way, public sidewalk or walkways or by a fine of no less than $2,000 and not more than $3,000.
Litter complaints come not only from tourists and some residents, Dersham said there are also complaints from industries.
“I know a German company decided not to move here because of the litter. The company figured if [county] was litter this much, then workers wouldn’t care about the job, “ he said.
A few organizations and groups throughout the county have taken it upon themselves to host clean up days and trash pick-up days; however, every citizen's help is needed.
Also helping clean up waste are inmate Work Crews from the DeKalb County Jail. The groups travel each week cleaning up the county roadways and, as reported by the Sheriff’s Office, collect an average of 1,400 pounds of garbage per day.
Tyler Pruett, public information officer for DeKalb County Sheriff Nick Welden, said although citizens may mistake the work detail as hard labor for bad behavior inmates, it's not. On the contrary, he said the inmates who participate in the Work Crews are the detention center’s good behavior inmates.
“A lot of people would rather be out doing that than sitting in jail. So most of the inmates actually enjoy doing it,” said Pruett.
The inmates who participate are volunteers and non-violent offenders. Pruett said if they haven’t had any disciplinary problems, their request is usually approved. As a perk, the crew typically receive a good meal for their work.
Pruett said the crews work on roads and known problem areas and sometimes get requests from the public to clean up a particular route.
“We have to take into account that [the road] is a safe place for them to pick up litter and that it’s not a bad spot where they may get hit by a car,” he said.
Although the inmate Work Crews aid in keeping the county clean, they are not solely limited to picking up litter; therefore, each resident is encouraged to do their part.
“They also do maintenance, groundskeeping at the DeKalb County Courthouse and I actually saw them [on Thursday] doing work at the DeKalb Tourism building,” Pruett said.
Although littering comes with consequences, it’s a common practice in our county that’s hard to combat.
The Keep Alabama Beautiful 501(c)3 non-profit organizations help to enable volunteers throughout Alabama to improve litter prevention practices, recycling, beautification and community greening efforts.
An example of those efforts is in the form of “Adopt-a-Mile, Adopt-a-Park, and Adopt-a-Stream.” Volunteer to make a difference regularly according to your availability. Choose a mile or more of a city or county street, a park or a local stream to keep as litter-free as possible.
According to KAB, cigarette butts are the most littered items across the U.S. Some people who would never litter paper, cans or other items often litter cigarette butts. Believing that these items will biodegrade quickly, however, it can take up to 15 years for that to happen. In the meantime, this causes an unsightly problem in many communities and many waterways.
For information on these programs, visit http://keepalabamabeautiful.org.
The Alabama Department of Transportation, aside from providing an efficient transportation system for all users, it’s the policy of the ALDOT to promote the preservation and enhancement of the natural and cultural resources of the State of Alabama.
ALDOT, in addition to its own anti-litter education and litter pickup activities, supports programs that bring the citizens of Alabama together to prevent and pick up litter.
They encourage citizens to learn about these programs that include Alabama People Against a Littered State (PALS) AND Keep Alabama Beautiful and see how they can get involved.
When leading by example, let your friends and family know what you're doing and help them get involved. Use #mydekalb with your photos of community clean up for a chance to be featured in The Times-Journal.