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Tobacco trash on increase as litter problem

By BY SONNY LONG
July 27, 2010 at 2:27 a.m.

Litter in Victoria continues to be a concern for Keep Victoria Beautiful. Executive Director Joni Brown cites plastic bags as the biggest culprit with tobacco products as a growng problem.

2009 LITTER INDEX REPORTThe five areas in Victoria with the most litter, according to a survey conducted by Keep Victoria Beautiful and released in December 2009.

1. Queens City

2. Zac Lentz Parkway between U.S. Highway 77 North and U.S. Highway 59 South

3. Houston Highway between Zac Lentz Parkway and Sam Houston Drive

4. John Stockbauer Drive from Zac Lentz Parkway to business U.S. Highway 59

5. State Highway 185 from North Street to U.S. Highway 59 South.

Tossed aside plastic bags clinging to fence rows; discarded cigarette butts accumulating at busy intersections - these are among the major litter problems facing Victoria, said Joni Brown, executive director of Keep Victoria Beautiful.

In keeping with statewide trends, Victoria has seen less food-related litter and an increase in tobacco trash.

"Trash is always on my mind, and that's not a line from a song. When that's what you do for a living, you notice it," Brown said.

"One of the things I noticed is a lot less fast food type trash. But at stop signs and stop lights, we have noticed an increase in tobacco product litter."

Tobacco trash

That litter includes the round cans for smokeless tobacco, cigarette packages, and cigarette butts, Brown said.

Earlier this month, Keep Texas Beautiful released a report stating that cigarette butts made up 43 percent of Texas litter in 2009.

"The new Attitudes and Behaviors Study shows smokers who litter don't think cigarette butts are a big problem, but they are wrong," said Doris Howdeshell, Texas Department of Transportation travel information division director.

"Our research reveals smokers who litter are more likely to toss other items. You could say cigarettes are a 'gateway litter' to tossing bigger, more visible trash on our rights-of-way," Howdeshell said. "Smokers are finding fewer places where they can light up, so we think their vehicles may be one of their last refuges"

Plastic bags

In addition to the growth of tobacco trash, Brown said the "continued blight of plastic bags" also is a major issue in Victoria.

"They are convenient to a lot of people, but that's where we are struggling in Victoria," Brown said.

Part of the problem, Brown said, are plastic bags in the back of pickups.

"We need to be more careful in securing things in the back of our trucks," she said.

"The biggest litterers in Texas are males between the age of 18 and 34, and a lot of it has to do with things flying out the back of trucks," said Brown.

Personal responsibility

Brown said that although Keep Victoria Beautiful is contractually obligated to take on the litter problem in the city, she hopes residents will accept some responsibility, too.

She urged people to put trash receptacles inside their vehicles and to take advantage of trash cans provided at most local fast food restaurants.

"Everyone has a part in this," she said. "It's everyone in the community's responsibility to deal with litter.

We do it best by policing ourselves."

Brown urged school organizations, civic groups, church groups and others to become involved in community cleanup projects.

"Sign up to do a litter pick up event," she said. "It's fun, rewarding and the best thing is you can look back over your shoulder where you just picked up litter and it looks great and makes you proud of your community."

As more people get involved it has a multiplying effect, Brown said.

"We want people to take it seriously and do their part," she said.

Wider Impact

Brown said that keeping the city clean can have far-reaching effects, in areas like the crime and the economy.

"It's the broken window theory," she said. "A cleaner community has lower crimes rates. When we keep our community clean, we eradicate graffiti, when we eradicate litter, it's a safer place to live."

From an economic standpoint, a cleaner community can attract growth, Brown said.

"It grows our economy," she said. "A clean attractive community is attractive to new people who want to move here to live or want to bring their business here."

"It's a quality of life issue. Who doesn't want to live in a pretty place? If you live in a place that's pretty and attractive, you're proud and you take care of it," said Brown.

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