Durham’s ‘Big Sweep’ is underway through October

Sep. 14, 2013 @ 10:21 AM

Let’s face it – North Carolina is a dirty place. I know a lot of people are disagreeing with me right now, but think about it. When was the last time you drove along a road or walked a sidewalk or visited a park/beach/mountain and DIDN’T see some litter on the ground? Cigarettes butts, plastic soda bottles, fast food bags, plastic shopping bags, etc.

Maybe I notice it more than the average person because it’s my job, but litter is all around us, even here in Durham. We North Carolinians are careless and thoughtless with our trash.

I have struggled with the question, “why?” for many years. I’ve visited other states, driven their highways and not seen a speck of trash. Not so much as a cigarette butt. But when I drive down any road in Durham some days there is trash everywhere.

So why is North Carolina so lackadaisical when it comes to properly throwing away our trash? According to the Keep America Beautiful (KAB) why people litter is all about behavior and attitudes. KAB’s 2009 “Littering Behavior in America” study found that most littering behavior, 81 percent, occurred with notable intent. This included dropping, 54 percent (that soda bottle dropped on the sidewalk); flick/fling of the item, 20 percent (hello smokers I’m looking at you!);  and other littering with notable intent, (7 percent (leaving items behind). One interesting litter fact from the survey was that individuals under 30 are more likely to litter than those who are older.

So how do we fix this dirty little problem we have here in Durham and across North Carolina? Well, since most littering is a question of a person’s behaviors and attitudes, we must change them. This means setting a good example for kids and teaching them that littering is wrong and actually against the law. Most people probably don’t know that North Carolina has a litter reporting program if you see it happening. The Swat-A-Litterbug Program is an educational effort administered by the N.C. Department of Transportation to encourage citizens to report instances of littering. You can find more information at www.ncdot.gov/doh/operations/dp_chief_eng/roadside/beautification/litterbug/

Since KAB also found that litter begets litter, meaning if you see litter you’re more likely to litter, it’s important to clean up the trash already polluting our community. This is something that all citizens need to participate in to make an impact. This fall Durham Big Sweep hopes to make just such an impact but needs volunteers. Durham Big Sweep, part of NC Big Sweep, is an annual litter clean-up event. Volunteers commit to clean up a section of Durham such as a school campus, local park, lakeside beach, neighborhood or local stream. Anywhere in Durham is an option.

The official Big Sweep day, in which all 100 counties in North Carolina will be participating, is Oct. 5, but here in Durham, groups can sign up for a clean-up on any day during the months of September and October to be counted part of Big Sweep. We have had record turnouts in the past few years, with hundreds of volunteers cleaning thousands of pounds of trash, but so much more remains and more is being dumped every day. We need volunteers to make an impact. In order to learn more about Big Sweep and volunteer, please visit the Durham Big Sweep website at Bit.ly/DurhamBigSweep.

Jennifer Brooks is a certified NC Environmental Educator and soil conservationist/education coordinator for the Durham Soil and Water Conservation District, part of Durham County government. Its mission is to conserve, enhance and promote the natural resources of Durham County by providing technical assistance, environmental education information and economic incentives to County citizens and by exhibiting a diversified program to meet its changing needs. To learn more please visit www.dconc.gov.