Raleigh's Litter Problem
By Jeri Gray, Environment Committee
Jeri Gray and her husband Mike have lived in the University Park area of Raleigh for 37 years. Jeri holds a MLS in environmental studies from NC State University. She retired from NCSU where she was a science writer and editor for the Water Resources Research Institute. Over the last 25 years, she has served on a number of Wake County water-related task forces, including the Water and Sewer Task Force and the Watershed Management Task Force. As a representative of the Wake County League of Women Voters, she participated in the environmental impact scoping study for the proposed Little River Reservoir. As a volunteer for the University Park Homeowners Association, she coordinated a Raleigh Adopt-A-Park program which provided community service credit for high school students who maintained dog waste dispensers at six park and greenway locations. Most recently, she coordinated efforts of Wake League of Women Voters volunteers for Wake County’s CLEANWAKE litter reduction challenge.
The following blog post is the opinion of the author and not an official LWV-Wake position.
It appears to me that the Raleigh City Council and City Manager have been so busy facilitating density that they have not noticed one of the unfortunate side effects of all this compaction: inner city neighborhoods have become trashy.
For the last ten months I’ve been picking up trash around the Village District/Hillsborough Street area. In the 37 years I have lived in this neighborhood, I have never before seen such trashy conditions.
With more people and businesses packed into this area, more car and foot traffic leads to more litter. City streets are lined with beer cans and plastic bottles tossed out of cars or dropped by passersby. Parking lots and on-street parking areas are covered with take-out containers, boxes, plastic bags, plastic cups, plastic bottles, and miscellaneous other litter. And at the many active construction sites, discarded trash mixed in with the mud just make you want to throw up.
Cleaning up this mess should be a priority for our city leaders now! Litter is not just an eyesore. Litter and trash on our city streets and sidewalks also tell people it’s okay to drop their disposables anywhere. The whole mess tells visitors that we don’t give a darn about how our city looks.
But more importantly, litter is pollution that is being washed down storm drains to creeks and eventually the Neuse River. Researchers at North Carolina State University have documented huge amounts of plastic trash in the river as well as microscopic nanoplastics in river sediment.
A number of organizations and volunteers are trying to keep our city clean, but we can’t keep up with the trash. Moreover, our city leaders should not rely on taxpaying citizens (and their willing children!) to perform a function of government.
Here’s what our elected officials should do:
· Provide more trash receptacles on city streets and empty them more often. Put up “No Littering” signs near trash receptacles to remind people that there is a city ordinance banning littering. Make it subject to a fine. To help pay for this expanded service, enact a special tax on any business—any kind of restaurant, grocery, convenience store, or drug store—inside city limits that provides take-out food or drink. These establishments are the source of most litter.
· Strongly remind people who own and/or operate parking lots that they are responsible for keeping them clean.
· Open more convenience centers like the one at Jaycee Park. This action could keep business-owned dumpsters from being used for household trash, abandoned furniture, and junk dumped by people who have no convenient place to dispose of these things.
· Write into all erosion and sedimentation control permits a requirement that construction sites be cleaned of litter and trash at the end of each workday. Enforce the requirement by having code inspectors also inspect for trash.
· Fund a new effort in the city stormwater program to install and maintain devices to catch trash in all streams flowing through the city. Such devices can keep this waste from going to the river and thence to the ocean.
Sure, all these things require money, but it’s a matter of priorities. Raleigh aspires to be a sustainable city, but it certainly won’t get there by ignoring obvious environmental problems like litter and trash.
Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in abridged form at https://livableraleigh.com/litter-is-pollution/.