Greenville County launches litter control program

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Greenville County has purchased a truck that collects roadside litter with a vacuum. The truck has collected more than 12,000 pounds of roadside trash since February. Photo by Andrew Moore.

Whether it’s carelessly thrown out of a car window or accidently blown out of a truck bed, litter contributes to more than just unattractive roadsides in Greenville County. And for years, the scattered piecemeal litter has gone largely unchecked.

But Greenville County has launched a new litter control program designed to improve cleanliness along streets. The “Litter Ends Here” program is going to focus on removing trash from storm drains, roads, and sidewalks.

“Most people are responsible citizens and put litter in its proper place. But there’s always those that take advantage of the situation and cause a problem for the rest of us,” said Greenville County Council Chairman Butch Kirven. “We are committed to continuing the fight to solve this problem, and we’re really proud of this vehicle.”

The vehicle is a new trash disposal truck that collects roadside litter using a vacuum.

The new truck, which is operated by two workers, has collected 12,800 pounds of roadside trash since it was purchased in February. Last week, for example, it collected about 1,500 pounds of litter along two Simpsonville roads in just one day, according to Greenville County Litter Prevention Coordinator Deanna Damato.

“Prior to the vacuum truck, we used volunteers. We’ve actually had an adopt-a-road program for the last 14 years. But safety is our number one concern for them. There are a lot of roads throughout Greenville County that are just too dangerous for them,” said Damato, who was hired in July to oversee the new program.

For instance, Damato said Highway 418, which runs through southern Greenville County, has no shoulders on either side and a high speed limit. “We haven’t had people picking up litter there for more than decade,” she said.

The new litter control program, which was officially launched in January, is the brainchild of Kirven and County Councilman Joe Dill, of District 17, who started a task force with Greenville County Recycling and others in 2015 to discuss innovative ways to address the uptick of visible litter across the county.

“We started this effort years ago and found that litter really is hard to tackle. It’s costly if you rely on inmates, and community volunteers are a hit-and-miss thing. But it’s work that has to be done. Litter is unsightly and unhealthy, and we’re living in a county that’s honestly saturated with it,” Kirven said.

Nationwide, trash cleanup efforts cost the U.S. more than an estimated $11.5 billion per year, according to the Keep American Beautiful 2009 National Visible Litter Survey and Litter Cost Study. Businesses pay for about $9.1 billion of that cost.

Also, the presence of litter in a community decreases property values by more than 7 percent, according to the National Association of Home Builders. It can also cost municipalities millions of dollars. In 2014, for example, a cigarette butt sparked a brush fire in Greer and caused $1.7 million in damages.

To prevent that from happening again, Greenville County created a mobile app, known as the “Litter Tracker,” for Damato and her team. The mobile app, which is available for iPhone and Android smartphones, allows users to report the location of roadside trash. They can submit a description, upload a photo, or drop a GPS pin of the location.

“I only have two eyes, so I really need help identifying where the litter is. The mobile app helps us identify the litter hotspots across the county,” Damato said. “When someone posts the location of trash, we head out there to pick it up.”

Damato said the county plans to hire two additional operators for a second vacuum truck, which should be operational next month. So far, the county has spent about $500,000 from its general fund for the vehicles and crews.

Greenville County plans to record the amount of litter collected each week and release a benchmark report next year detailing the new program’s progress. “It’s sort of a catch-22 for us, because we want the program to continue but we want people to stop littering. At the end of the day, we want people to know that we’re on it,” Damato said.

For more information visit www.litterendshere.org or contact Deanna Damato at ddamato@greenvillecounty.org.

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