You’re not alone in noticing: Litter along the roadsides of Greenville County has gotten a lot worse during the coronavirus pandemic.
Plastic drink bottles, food containers from takeout meals and personal protective equipment proliferate, especially on major roadways and interstates.
It’s not just that more people are using these items. Officials say the labor force that typically cleans up this refuse has also evaporated.
Notably, inmates from state prisons and county jails aren’t going out to pick up trash since the state Department of Corrections suspended work crews last March due to coronavirus concerns.
In 2019, about 220 prisoners cleaned more than 15,000 miles of state roads, the majority of them interstates, according to S.C. Corrections Department spokeswoman Chrysti Shain.
Groups like Palmetto Pride and Friends of the Reedy River have seen a dip in volunteerism as well.
Palmetto Pride had to cancel its large-scale cleanups in the late spring and summer, though many groups still went out and picked up trash, according to Sarah Lyles, the executive director of the group.
The trash isn’t just an eyesore.
“It can clog drains, pollute waterways and hurt our state’s economy by discouraging economic development,” S.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said in a statement.
Last year, the department hired contractors to pick up roadside litter for the first time, paying them $668,000 to collect 544,000 pounds of trash, the Associated Press reported.
Even DOT employees have contributed to cleanup efforts.
About 1,700 SCDOT employees were deployed across the state on Nov. 17 as part of a one-day effort, collecting 13,130 bags of roadside trash weighing nearly 210,000 pounds.
The agency has another cleanup planned for the spring.