Littering an intolerable act
Published 7:32 am Wednesday, February 11, 2004
There is a long laundry list of behaviors that simply have no place in this or any other community.
Some of them, the ones we send people to prison for, are certainly worse than others. That's why we have lock-ups -- to remove those from our midst who do things that are unacceptable, even dangerous to the community at large.
Those who sully and victimize the world around them are placed in a world unto itself, where their behaviors can be contained and, some believe, changed.
There are many behaviors, however, that we as a society are altogether too lenient in dealing with.
One such behavior is littering, which literally sullies and victimizes the world. It makes a blighted wreck of countryside that represents us all to those see it, be they passersby, out of town visitors, maybe even people looking for a place to start a new business.
If nothing else, the sadness one feels at seeing a contrail of garbage strewn along the roadside -- or a graveyard of dead appliances clustered in the forest -- is something no one should ever have to experience.
The incomprehensibly lazy actions of a few people have the potential to impact everyone around them -- their neighbors' image, their neighbors' state of mind, maybe even the economic vitality of the community in which their neighbors live. Those who litter exact a heavy toll on those around them.
That's why people who throw litter from their car windows while driving down the road -- or who dump old washers, dryers and refrigerators in the woods -- should go to jail, for long enough that their stay behind bars has a real impact on them.
While the deterrent effect of potential jail time is debatable in the case of many crimes, here's betting that an easy-to-change behavior like littering might prove an exception. Surely even the trashiest among us -- a fitting profile of the typical litterbug -- could come to the conclusion that the urge to toss a cheeseburger wrapper out the window simply isn't worth giving in to if the price for getting caught is taking up residence on a chain gang.
But there are those who would see that opinion as extreme, and anyway lawmakers have better things to do than worry about tougher laws on litterbugs.
Not to mention that catching those who litter is difficult to begin with.
The problems here aren't in downtown Brewton or East Brewton, where people can be easily observed. They're in the areas surrounding the cities, in unincorporated parts of the county where there are no homes, no witnesses.
But difficult or not, it is incumbent upon county officials to do everything in their power to attack the littering problem, from the standpoint of both education and enforcement. David Stokes' idea to hold a meeting specifically for addressing this problem is a good one, and the commission should listen to a plan developed by Brewton's David Ezell, whose appearance at Monday's commission meeting served to shed new light on the county's litter problem.
If it becomes a focus throughout the county, strides can be made in the area of litter prevention. And until such time as we see littering differently than we do today, whatever people are able to do with education and the mild deterrents available will have to suffice. And at some point, volunteerism will likely play a key role.
To paraphrase one attendee at Monday's council meeting, it's the decent people in this county who have to keep it clean.