Bay Journal

Letters to the Editor

  • By Opinion on July 04, 2013
Litter collects along Bread & Cheese Creek in Baltimore County. (Dave Harp)

We don't need fines to solve litter problem

As the manager of a riverside park for more than 30 years, I have a different understanding of the role of law enforcement in the control of litter and dumping than the one presented in "Tired of getting dumped on, initiative gets tough on trash," (January-February 2013).

As a citizen, I don't think the solution to all of the social problems is more law enforcement, and as a taxpayer, I don't want to see unnecessary increased expenditures. And, I suggest that the request for greater fines and more police officers is really a frustrated reaction to poor local management at the field level and weak political willpower at the state level.

The answers to these problems are actually simple and straightforward…and have been proven in several states.

Frankly, litter is an easy environmental problem to fix.

It is important not to confuse littering with dumping. Littering is an accidental crime. It comes from indifference, ignorance and convenience. It is a form of self-absorption — a person is too involved in conversation to think about the gum wrapper or Slurpee cup in hand.

Dumping is a purposeful crime. It comes from wanting to avoid paying the fee for the disposal of an item.

The former requires societal change — an upgrading of awareness. The latter requires law enforcement — an incentive to keep the business field level and the quality of life high for society.

The single most important way to reduce litter is to put a value on it.

The usual way this is done is to attach a deposit on beverage containers. Buyers get the money back when they turn the containers in. If they toss them on the ground, someone else will pick them up and turn them in. The overall amount of trash flow decreases by about 50 percent.

The way to reduce the dumping of tires is to attach a disposal fee at the time of purchase. The usual amount is $5. It might do to make it $10.

The real problem is what to do with all of those discarded tires that have already been dumped. The answer is to make the disposal of old tires free at landfills or collection sites. This also requires special equipment like grinders and a willingness on the part of the state to purchase rubber chips to use in paving and playgrounds, as well as tax relief or subsidies for businesses that want to extract oil from rubber.

The way to reduce plastic bag pollution is to charge a fee for their use (10 cents) or to ban them outright. Shoppers throughout Europe use string bags.

The way to avoid action on litter reduction is to address it as a law enforcement problem. It isn't.

More trash and recycling containers would be helpful, especially if they are placed wherever the litter builds up.

Education based on personal pride seems to work. "The River is Special, I'm Proud to Keep it Clean" or "Don't Mess with Texas." So does environmental concern such as "NO BOTTLES please! Broken Glass Cuts Children's Feet."

Support from local businesses is helpful. We have found that having local stores put up our signs asking customers not to take glass bottles to the river helped to spread the message. Not having sale prices on bottled beer during the summer months is another big help.

Large, bold signs like "NO LITTERING" have minimal impact — no one is consciously looking for a place to litter.

High fine levels have limited impact — there aren't many officers out there to catch litterers. And will a judge actually impose a $250 fine on a single mom (with no criminal record, making minimum wage and trying to go to night school) just because she dropped a gum wrapper or coffee cup?

The simple point is that good management and good laws trump more police and greater fines. And that creates a better place to live in — where police officers handle crises and civilians handle management.

Ralph R. White
Richmond, VA

 

Hasty legislation makes waste of Bay's health

I think it's now apparent to most politicians in the 10 Maryland counties impacted by the "rain tax" as its detractors like to refer to it, that the Maryland legislature dumped a sloppily drafted law in their laps to sort out. The net result is uneven: Unfair fees are being established by those counties, the worst of which are making a mockery of the law by setting a one-cent tax (Frederick) or even disregarding the law altogether (Carroll). The Maryland legislature has an unfortunate history of producing well-meaning laws that are virtually unenforceable, most notably the state's Open Meetings Act.

The new stormwater fee law is well-intended but the result of too many compromises; perhaps too many chefs in the kitchen. The biggest error in the process of drafting this law was to allow the Maryland Association of Counties to lobby the legislators into the quagmire of fees that are not clearly established across the board nor offer a clear path of enforcement for any county that ignores the law.

Initially, I had hoped that Bay organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay could get out into the field to counter the hype being put out by the Pave the Bay politicians, but given their use of political propaganda and demagoguery, it appears that the pavers have the upper hand at the moment.

I believe the solution is for Maryland lawmakers who really have the welfare of the Bay at heart to revisit this legislation before the 2014 session begins and have a solid solution at the ready. The Maryland Association of Counties has allowed itself to become the dog wagged by a few loudmouth tails in counties that feel no responsibility to the health of either the Bay or Marylanders. It's time to neutralize that mouthpiece which no longer sees the benefits to the Chesapeake as assets to each of its counties.

Neil Ridgely
Reisterstown, MD

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