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Roanoke County officials, led by Supervisor Charlotte Moore, consider how to curb littering.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Butts are the problem. So are cups and bottles and sundry other rubbish. Now, several years into her stint on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, Charlotte Moore is looking to send a message to litterbugs.
In the first major anti-litter push since her 2007 campaign, Moore is seeking to draft a resolution that will promote a cleaner environment through marketing and enforcement. As she and county staff explore possibilities, others in the Roanoke Valley have expressed interest, including the Clean Valley Council.
Moore showed interest in environmental projects even before she entered the public arena, including the adoption of the median at Brambleton Avenue and Electric Road. She spent her own money to replace the median grass with mulch and petunias — both of which burned after a passer-by flicked a cigarette out of a car window.
“It occurs at just about every intersection,” Moore said. “I just feel that there is a need and it’s just going to get worse. I’ve always said it, but I never formally came to the board.”
In working with county staffers, Moore hopes to draft a possible resolution for an Oct. 8 board of supervisors work session, in hopes of getting input from her peers.
Just how to better enforce litterbug laws remains the question, though. Especially when police departments already are burdened with their daily responsibilities.
It’s also difficult making sure people understand what constitutes littering.
“I don’t think it’s people’s intent to do this a lot of the time,” she said. “I think it’s just habit.”
Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall wondered the same question. Some people might not consider tossing a cigarette butt out a window the same as pitching a bag of garbage.
Regardless, the chief said he intends to stop littering if his officers see it.
“If somebody does that, they’re littering, they’re violating the law,” Hall said. “I think if you see a violation you enforce it. We’ve sent out to our officers what the pertinent code sections are.”
Moore said she has approached County Attorney Paul Mahoney about the ramifications of adopting an ordinance that would impose a civil penalty on people caught tossing small items, including cigarette butts.
Currently, the county charges people caught dumping trash with a Class 1 misdemeanor, a criminal charge. Moore said the civil penalty would be less severe, and would likely include receiving a notice or small fines.
Assistant County Administrator Richard Caywood said other communities across the country — including many beach towns — have enacted more aggressive measures to curb littering.
“Our goal would be to find ideas that we can share with the board to just raise awareness,” Caywood said. “If you’ve ever done Adopt-a-Highway, or have gone out yourself to the side of a highway to see what’s there, … I know in certain places there are lots of cigarette butts that end up in storm drains and then eventually in the lakes.”
“They do add up,” he said.
There is no available data that illustrates just how bad the littering is in the county, though there is no shortage of stories from people about how easy it is to find stray trash along the sides of any busy county thoroughfare.
Cristina Siegel, the executive director of the Clean Valley Council, said her organization recently took a group of middle school students to an area in Roanoke to pick up litter.
“Within a couple of hours they found more than 1,600 cigarettes, and from that one location,” Siegel said. “If you take that and multiply, it gives you just a small fraction of the problem.”
Siegel said it would be possible to get some grant funding for any county initiative the supervisors approved.
In considering avenues beyond enforcement, Moore said she is investigating the possibility of starting a proactive county program that would use anti-litter signs to educate people about the problem.
County staffers are already floating the idea of using the sides of garbage trucks as mobile billboards, and producing small magnet stickers to place on other county vehicles.
If a resolution is passed by the supervisors, Moore said the county could approach the Virginia Department of Transportation about erecting roadside signs that urge residents and visitors to kindly refrain from tossing their trash from their cars.
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