In some areas of the county, trash reappears almost as quickly as it’s picked up.
Macon-Bibb County officials are boosting efforts to reduce the tons of litter and other items dumped illegally each year. County commissioners and other leaders have discussed ways to attack the problem, which they say will take stepping up enforcement as well as partnering with residents across the community.
Commissioners Mallory Jones and Joe Allen broached the topic during a recent meeting. A common problem is that too often people leave fast-food restaurants and throw their trash out of car windows.
“It’s really just disgusting, and there’s no way to measure the economic, negative impact on our community, but it’s tremendous,” Jones said. “I can tell you from being in real estate for 27 years, ... this says we don’t care about our city.”
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And the problem is especially evident to visitors who flock to Macon during the Cherry Blossom Festival, which begins next month.
How much litter and illegally dumped material is picked up in Macon? Between Macon-Bibb crews, community volunteers and probationers and others, there has been at least 800 tons since 2016. It includes:
▪ 788 tons of material, including appliances and tires dumped on vacant lots, collected through 236 neighborhood cleanups last year.
▪ 42 tons of debris that Public Works crews picked up in 2016.
▪ 645 bags of litter picked up by Public Works from Jan. 10, 2017-Feb. 8.
▪ 997 bags of litter picked up on roads/intersections by community volunteers and probationers from July to December 2016.
We don’t have a litter problem in Macon. We just have litterers who are lazy and inconsiderate about our town and how it looks.
Pam Carswell, executive director of Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission
With 1,100 miles of rights of way that Macon-Bibb is responsible for, litter and illegal dumping have become a “never ending” fight, Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.
“We just don’t have the number of people to clean every single street every single week when a piece of trash” is thrown out, he said.
Some of the county’s busiest streets — such as Gray and Emery highways and Mercer University Drive — are prime areas for litter. That means Macon-Bibb resources are sometimes being poured into picking up trash along thoroughfares managed by the state, said Parks and Beautification Director Sam Kitchens.
Some of the litter is also inadvertent. Some of it comes from pickup trucks, commercial vehicles and trailers in which uncovered garbage or debris simply flies out, Solid Waste Director Kevin Barkely said.
County officials are discussing the level of enforcement, posting more signs and possibly forming a litter task force to develop strategies. A renewed effort working with more companies and organizations where employees would help clean up stretches of roads could help, officials said.
“I don’t think the government can and should try to pick up all the litter every day, everywhere,” Mayor Robert Reichert said said. “What we’re going to do, I hope, is to work with Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission and try to get groups, organizations and institutions to adopt a stretch of road or neighborhood where they go out on regular basis and police litter.”
The sheriff’s office typically gives a warning when people are caught littering. The penalty can include a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 60 days of community service.
But catching people in the act of littering is rare, Sheriff David Davis said.
“A lot of ours is someone (illegally) dumping, and deputies or code enforcement basically going through trash and finding an address that we can go on,” Davis said. “A lot of time our deputies warn people, but they have written citations for littering. Since this has become a focus, I’ve told my officers to put an emphasis on it to give this public awareness. Even the penalty part. If we have to write some citations, then so be it.”
Some officials differ on what the best approach might be. Several of them suggest more citations written by law enforcement as a strong deterrent, as well as working with Municipal Court to punish.
“I think if the sheriff’s (office) starts writing tickets and word gets around, that could make a difference,” Commissioner Bert Bivins said.
Others say that instead of forcing more people to pay fines, the emphasis should be on bringing more awareness to the issue. Commissioner Al Tillman said some of the responsibility is on county officials to raise more awareness with residents.
He, along with Commissioner Joe Allen, suggested posting more signs warning people of the consequences of littering.
Others say a combination of measures is needed. And that litter task force may be the group that best puts together strategies, Commissioner Elaine Lucas said.
Since a Macon-Bibb litter hotline went live in December 2015, there have been more than 130 calls about people littering. Litterers are sent letters warning them of the consequences, and there have been no repeat offenders caught through the hotline, said Pam Carswell, executive director of Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission.
The hotline was an idea that came from Athens-Clarke County, and Macon-Bibb may be able to follow the steps of other communities that have been successful in reducing litter and illegal dumping.
“We don’t have a litter problem in Macon,” Carswell said. “We just have litterers who are lazy and inconsiderate about our town and how it looks.”
One place where litter has been reduced is Polk County, Florida. A grant paid for cameras to be placed strategically in areas where illegal dumping was common. Footage from the cameras provided the evidence needed to catch the violators.
“They also bought dummy cameras so the people didn’t know if it was a live camera or a (fake) camera,” Carswell said. “Their statistics of how quickly they cleaned up that area was amazing.”