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THE LAST WORD: We need to educate public, enforce law to stop littering

Kerry Hubartt

I’m sure I have many faults, but littering is not one of them.

I know my parents did not approve of littering, and somehow they ingrained in my conscience not to toss anything on the ground any time, anywhere — not a gum wrapper, a tissue, anything. I will not litter.

But it’s clear not everyone feels the way I do.

Nothing spoils a beautiful drive in the country like a stretch of road littered with trash. Yet that’s what we see almost everywhere we go in Indiana. And I fume when I see someone toss a fast-food bag full of lunch trash out their car window while driving down the highway.

States spend millions of dollars every year to keep our roads, streets and parks clean. And while littering is not tolerated under Indiana law, without public awareness of the consequences and concern for the environment, the problem continues to scar the landscape.

If caught littering in Indiana, a person can face hefty fines as well as court-ordered penalties like litter cleanup or community service. Indiana Code 35-45-3-2 states that littering is a “Class B infraction punishable by a fine up to $1,000.”

It’s possible many people are not aware of the law. That certainly seems to be the case with cigarette butts, which smokers toss out their car windows all the time. The Indiana State Police warn that one burning cigarette butt could start a massive fire in seconds. They want Hoosiers to know that throwing burning material from any moving vehicle is illegal and can result in a fine of up to $10,000. Even if cigarettes are completely extinguished, it takes 10-12 years for a butt to decompose. So why don’t smokers use ashtrays?

And why don’t people keep litter bags in their cars, or hold on to their trash until they can dispose of it properly in a receptacle?

Enforcing the state law can be difficult unless law enforcement catches someone in the act.

The Elkhart County Commissioners determined to take a more aggressive approach when they voted a week ago to establish a new litter prevention ordinance that takes effect July 1 prohibiting littering in public places and roadways, requiring vehicles transporting garbage to secure their loads, and setting fines for violations.

“Our goal is to reestablish this community standard that we will not litter,” Commission President Mike Yoder told the Goshen News. “Our standards say we want our roadsides clean and attractive.”

First-time violators could be cited with a civil fine of up to $250. Penalties increase to up to $500 for subsequent violations, the new ordinance shows. The ordinance prohibits people from tossing trash or allowing it to fall on public highways, roads or property in the county. And vehicles must be secured to prevent garbage from falling out. One section describes regulations for trash haulers.

How will the Elkhart County ordinance be any more effective than state law?

Yoder told the Goshen News the county has hired a new officer for the Sheriff’s Department who will concentrate on enforcing the litter law along with regular patrol duties. He said the Solid Waste Management District and the Highway Department have split the cost to fund the position.

“The county is serious about enforcing this,” Yoder said. “It’s not an acceptable behavior in this community to litter.”

It shouldn’t be acceptable in any community or on any highway, back road, park or other green space.

The Indiana Department of Transportation has several beautification initiatives to help keep Indiana clean, such as its annual Trash Bash! directed at litter collection on interstates and divided highways as well as Adopt-a-Highway groups and other organizations and individuals who join forces to clean two-lane roads with lower traffic volume.

During last year’s Trash Bash! hundreds of INDOT employees collected 2,857 bags of trash — 724 cubic yards — while non-INDOT volunteers gathered 600 bags of trash — 150 cubic yards.

But while there are many such commendable efforts across the state to clean up the discarded trash from our highways and other areas, the public needs to be educated about our responsibility to stop littering, starting with responsible parents. And then the law needs to be enforced.

It will be interesting to see if Elkhart County makes progress with their new ordinance.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.

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