Involve students in fight vs. litter

Surry County Commissioner Eddie Harris has decided he’s had enough.

Like most anyone who drives through Surry County, particularly along some of the major highways, he sees it — discarded fast food bags, cups, trash that’s fallen off of someone’s truck, garbage that’s been dumped illegally — garbage that’s littering the county’s highways.

Not only is it ugly, for a community that bills itself as a scenic one, a place for tourists to come and enjoy the natural beauty of the area, highways lined with litter can have a definite negative effect on the local economy.

With the blessing of the rest of the Board of Commissioners, Harris is tackling the problem, looking to start a program that combines enforcement by law agencies ticketing those who commit these crime — and littering is a crime — along with educational efforts to help prevent the act.

He’s approaching the plan in a smart way. Rather than reinventing the wheel, he’s patterning it after an effective anti-littering campaign in the Mountain Park community. He’s also looking to the public for ideas on how to effectively tackle the problem.

One he mentioned, and we would encourage him to follow, is to involve the local school systems. Involve them as heavily as possible. Make anti-litter education part of what the local kids and youth are exposed to nearly every day in the schools.

Recycling has been a popular trend for a number of years, and local efforts at recycling have been largely successful because people behind these efforts put an emphasis on involving schools. Once area children get excited about a concept, something they can take direct action in, these youths will carry that concept home, teaching, encouraging, and even bugging their parents and siblings about getting onboard until they do.

That’s the way recycling programs often take root in the larger community, by getting local school kids excited about the idea.

We believe the same results could be achieved with anti-littering campaigns in the schools. Get contests going — maybe have some of the local kids competing to come up with a slogan for the program, or posters and designs for signs Harris has said he might use. Make the local youth feel an investment in the effort and that will multiply through every household in the community.

We think some of the ideas Harris has mentioned — yard signs educating the public on the problems of littering, stricter enforcement and punishment by law enforcement — are good ones, but his mention of involving the schools is where he might be most effective.

One other area we might suggest would be lobbying state legislators to enact tougher laws regarding the covering of trucks carrying debris. Harris estimated that 50 percent of the problem is caused large haulers and pickup trucks carrying loose debris and trash, without proper covers to secure the garbage. We would suggest much tougher laws in the state requiring adequate covers on trucks, even personal pickup trucks, to prevent this, along with hefty fines for non-compliance.

Unfortunately, the idea of having clean, garbage-free roads and countryside will probably never be fully realized, but involving local youth in an active, fun anti-littering program, along with tighter laws regarding the transport of trash and waste in truck beds, could go a long way toward making the county a lot tidier than it is.

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