Laws haven’t helped control trash along roads

Laws haven’t helped control trash along roads

This past winter I spent a lot of time hiking in the woods with another fellow hiker. We did many hikes along the Buckeye Trail. While hiking, we noticed there was a large amount of litter in some areas.

We started to bring bags along with us to collect and transport the garbage. During one hike, close to the shoreline of Tappan Lake on MWCD property, we collected enough cans and bottles to fill several large garbage bags, and we also found an empty propane tank, a metal bucket and a tire.

Another stretch of the Buckeye Trail that runs along the western portion of Tappan Lake shoreline near Willis Run Road was littered with several tires. Because that trail is not close to a road, we wondered how the tires got there? They will have to be removed using a boat.

Sadly, this trash was probably left by people hiking the trail or people who had docked their boats along the shoreline. It is hard to understand how a person can be a hiker or a boater and disrespect nature by leaving trash behind.

If you take a ride along any highway or road, especially in a rural area, you might be shocked by the amount of litter thrown along the roadsides. As I mentioned in a previous column, Ohio’s Department of Transportation spends over $4 million each year to pick up trash along the roads. This costs the taxpayers money. ODOT workers, adopt-a-highway volunteers and inmates spent over 1.7 million hours picking up trash from 2010-19.

What also is surprising is there are laws in Ohio against littering; however, these laws haven’t helped control the enormous amounts of trash discarded along the roads. According to Ohio Revised Code 4511.82, “No operator or occupant of a motor vehicle shall, regardless of intent, throw, drop, discard or deposit litter from any motor vehicle in operation upon any street, road or highway, except into a litter receptacle in a manner that prevents it from being carried away or deposited by the elements.”

The violation of this law is classified as a misdemeanor in Ohio. It can result in fines of up to $500 and 60 days in jail.

These consequences are not harsh, considering some states like Massachusetts levy fines upward of $30,000. Other states also subject violators to prison time with Tennessee having the most severe punishment of up to six years. Frequently, laws in many states require the offender to pick up the trash as part of the punishment. My friends and I think this is an excellent idea.

In honor of Earth Day, my husband and I along with our “hiking neighbor” friends decided to pick up trash along a small stretch of roadway, approximately four-tenths of a mile. The stretch of road is located at the intersection of Route 800 and Feed Springs Hill Road, just inside the Tuscarawas County line. Ironically, this piece of road is delineated as being part of Ohio’s Scenic Byway System. You may have seen the signs that mark these byways along some roads. Our areas are marked with a “Trillium flower” sign.

Ohio’s Scenic Byway program has been established by the Ohio Department of Transportation. We have 27 named scenic byways in the state. The byway we picked trash at is the Tappan-Moravian Trail Byway. There are many guidelines that need to be followed in order to get the designation of a scenic byway. Obviously, natural beauty is one. Sadly, a byway also can be de-designated, and the reasons for that include a degrading of the original values.

The four of us, dressed in reflective vests with protective gloves and trash claws, headed out to pick up trash on this scenic byway. Our first trash pickup resulted in 23 kitchen bags of garbage. We just picked trash from four-tenths of a mile and only from one side of the road. We literally filled up the back of our pickup truck. The next time we picked up trash, we ended up only doing about an eighth of a mile on the opposite side of the road. Once again, we filled up the back of the pickup truck. This side of the road was much worse for volume of trash.

Anthropologists say you can tell a lot about a society by their trash. That statement resonated with our Tappan trash crew as we picked up trash. By far the most thrown-away items were aluminum beer cans and glass beer bottles. Valuable resources that can be recycled were pitched. This also means in all probability many people were drinking and driving.

We also picked up several glass wine bottles and numerous plastic water bottles. In many cases those plastic bottles had become receptacles for chewing tobacco spit. Any thought of trying to recycle the trash ourselves was completely off the table after we saw the brown residue in those bottles.

We also saw the trash from several local fast-food establishments. Items like plastic silverware, plastic clam shells and even a few sushi containers dotted the roadside. There were four face masks and even a car tire sitting close to the scenic byway sign.

The four of us tried to comprehend why some people just seem to think it is OK to use nature as a trash can. Is it due to a lack of education? A lack of caring for the beauty of the area? Laziness? A mind-set passed on from family members? We couldn’t justify this attitude.

When I was a kid, if you even thought about pitching a gum wrapper out the car window, there would be hell to pay once our destination was reached. We had a little trash bag in our car. Of course, we didn’t have a lot of fast-food places, but even if we had, my parents would not have allowed us to throw the trash outside on the road. So how do we stop this costly and disgusting habit?

Obviously, it is going to take more than laws. If you see someone littering, get their license plate number. If you are riding in a car with someone who thinks it is OK to litter, educate them. Maybe we need higher fines, more jail time? Could a deposit on beverage containers help keep them off the roadways? Can we make littering a felony? How about public shaming for litterbugs and requiring they pick up litter for the duration of their sentence?

We have to find better ways to combat this issue. No one wins when people trash our environment.

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