Highway litter is becoming more of a problem as North Carolinians and tourists travel the state’s roadways, resulting in public complaints and legislative action. Considering Carteret County’s dependence on tourism and the sensitivity of our coastal environment, this is an issue that needs an immediate and long term solution.
As North Carolinians, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, have quarantined over the past year reducing the number of miles traveled on the state’s highways for either work or play, it is surprising to see the growing amount of litter and trash showing up on the state’s roadways. But the problem exists which has resulted in numerous letters to the editor and a discussion topic for the county commissioners.
The problem is so apparent that N.C. House Republican Majority Leader, John Bell, Goldsboro, introduced legislation in late February, one of the earliest bills offered in the new session, to address this issue. House Bill 100 provides funding to local sheriff’s offices to pay for off-duty deputies to pick-up roadway trash, raises fines upwards to $4,000 and calls for an anti-littering campaign.
While it is appropriate, albeit disappointing, to address the litter scarring our highway vistas, we should also address the cultural attitude of people who litter. If the public were to consider the trash on the highways as a personal affront there would be less litter and less need to waste valuable funds to pick up the litter.
Anyone who has ever visited The Netherlands will recall that the country is very clean. There are examples of other countries, but the Dutch stand out. They are fastidious, practically to an obsession. Their homes are noted for their order and cleanliness and it is seldom that trash is seen anywhere in the cities. What litter is found has been left by visitors not by natives - it’s not in their DNA and so they just don’t litter.
We should take a cue from The Netherlands and other countries that pride themselves in their environment and promote a similar cultural attitude here.
A good place to start on this long term solution is to promote anti-littering messaging in our schools and at the same time promote pride in our communities and our state. In this era of ‘wokeness’ where our schools are required to introduce a curriculum about ethnic and cultural pride, it is appropriate to include community pride and personal responsibility. This effort will also appeal to our environmental concerns as well.
Rep. Bell’s initiative and the numerous letters to the editor are appreciated, but they are addressing the symptom, not the problem. The solution to that problem begins with promoting a culture of community pride and self-responsibility and the best place to start is in our schools.