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A supervisor’s interest in breaking a nasty public habit could pay off in lots of ways, if she succeeds.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Littering is against the law. Yet people litter pretty much with impunity.
It’s a small violation, each bit of litter a small thing. Well, generally.
Building materials made No. 9 on the Top 10 Litter Items found in the 2012 Virginia Waterways Cleanup. (Plastic beverage bottles and cigarettes/filters were Nos. 1 and 2.) Altogether, volunteers who combed the state’s rivers, beaches and coastal waters last year picked up almost 500,000 pounds of trash.
So the small violations do add up: to unsightly messes along roadways and trails, polluted waterways and hazards to wildlife.
And a big enough problem in Roanoke County that Supervisor Charlotte Moore wants a countywide initiative to address it.
Moore hopes to put a draft resolution before the board of supervisors for discussion next week. She envisions a threefold effort: marketing to raise public awareness; a local ordinance allowing litterbugs to be charged with a civil, rather than criminal, offense; and an effort to encourage judges to impose community service — picking up litter — as an alternative to a fine.
The State Code defines littering as a Class 1 misdemeanor, but allows localities to impose a civil penalty in lieu of a criminal one.
The county’s code enforcement people use it mainly for big violations — think pickup truckloads of illegally dumped garbage — to try to force compliance, County Attorney Paul Mahoney says. Typically, a judge orders offenders to clean up their mess or face the fine.
Moore would like the same option for people cited for tossing cigarette butts or food wrappers onto streets. “I don’t want to make criminals out of them, I just want to make them take responsibility for their actions.”
She seems to be onto something. A successful effort would dovetail with the county’s looming deadline for cleaning up and reducing stormwater runoff. Litter is a problem in both cases — it pollutes and clogs detention ponds.
Moore has targeted a real problem. Fixing it will be harder. She knows enforcement will be the biggest hurdle. Self-policing might be the key — and that depends on public buy-in.
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