Betty and I like to travel, and we've been to some pretty great places: Manhattan, San Francisco, Napa / Sonoma, DC, Seattle, Charleston... and the one thing all of those places had in common was that they were spotless. The people there actually took care of the land. People thought twice before chunking a glass bottle out their car window into someone's yard. (I saw that happen down here just the other day.) Even Houston is pretty decent in regards to litter.
While in Charleston, I took a picture of the only piece of garbage that I found. That's how rare it was.
On the bright side, I was able to enter the code from that Coke bottle into my My Coke Rewards account. Jackpot!
Every so often our law enforcement officers will have a heightened litter awareness weekend. That's good and all, and very much appreciated. I know our law officers are busy. But I think what we truly need is better littering laws and a means to enforce them.
Here's a simplification of Louisiana's littering law (LSA-R.S. 30:2531), courtesy of NCSL.org:
Louisiana distinguishes between intentional and simple littering. First conviction for intentional littering: fine of $250 and eight hours of community service in a litter abatement work program; second conviction: $500 and sixteen hours; third or subsequent conviction: $1250, eighty hours, and one year suspension of driver's license.
First conviction for simple littering: $75 or eight hours of community; second or subsequent conviction: $500 or sixteen hours of community service. Those convicted under the statute must also pay for or repair any damages to the property and pay all reasonable investigative costs.
Let's be honest: if we had even the minimum $75 fine for just one in every 100 pieces of garbage out on the median of Airline Highway in Baton Rouge, Louisiana would be the richest state in the Union.
Here's what I propose:
1. We use the cameras at the red lights that capture speeders and people who run red lights, and use some of their power for catching people who litter. Sure, the range of littering that we could capture is limited, but it's a start.
2. You know those bums who are always asking for money at the corner of Airline and Sherwood? I saw one guy who was limping along on crutches, holding a sign asking for money, generally looking pathetic... until a cop told him to move. The guy literally picked up his crutches and ran off to the other side of the road. It was all a scam. BUT, since he's out there all day anyway, why not give him a real job and let him pick up trash off the side of the road? I'm not trying to say that there aren't homeless people who truly need help - I feel for them. It's just that once you see a guy who pretends like he can barely walk on crutches just to fleece you, only to get up and run from a cop (Forrest Gump-style), you start to wonder how well he'd do picking up Coke cans, milk cartons and the happy meals that people launch out their cars.
3. Outlaw smoking. Why is it not illegal to throw a cigarette butt on the ground? I think it should be legal to kick a person in the butt for however many cigarette butts you see them toss to the ground. This program could be called "Butts for butts." And if they're smoking menthols or Marlboro Reds, you should get to kick them twice.
4. Use shame as a deterrent. It used to be that when someone did something wrong, their name and picture appeared in the paper. I don't read the paper anymore so I don't know if that's still true. I doubt it is. I think nowadays they only show reality TV stars, Obama and whatever GOP candidate is leading the race this week in the news. But we should have a page devoted to people who litter that also states what they threw out. I bet that would deter people from throwing out the more bizarre items (or maybe it would just increase it after a while - who knows). It could also be like the "Want Ads" but flipped to be the "Do Not Want Ads" - instead of trying to find a job at a business advertising in the paper, a business could "hire" you for however long you're serving community service and make you do the jobs that nobody else wants to do, like clean toilets, clean sewage facilities, and manually collect sperm samples from horses. And finally...
5. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries patrols for litterers, and they seriously need to up their game. According to their website, they issued 1,001 citations for littering for the 2009-2010 year. Seriously? I think there are 1,001 pieces of garbage on the grass from my house to my workplace. They do have the Litter Bug number (1-888-LITRBUG or 1-888-548-7284) that you can call toll free to report litterers, but I think they need a Facebook page or something so that we can snap pictures with our phones and then upload it to their website - preferably anonymously (unless there's a reward).
Realistically, the only people who are going to do anything about this are you and me. And I'm probably not going to call the Litter Bug hotline... instead, I'm going to write the license plate number down of whoever I see littering, find out where they live, and then haul a dumpster over to their house. Let them live in filth and see how they like it.