Threat of fines does little to stop littering

May 10, 2011 4:18:52 PM PDT
From cigarette butts to fast food wrappers, a hail of trash continues to fall on Triangle area roads despite laws intended to prevent it.

And, a review of records by ABC11 shows that litterbugs rarely face prosecution.

Raleigh police have given out 217 littering tickets since the beginning of 2010. In 14 counties including Wake, the Highway Patrol has given out just 112 over the same period, while the Wake County Sheriff's Department has issued just 16 citations.

While those numbers seem low, the law enforcement agencies say there's a simple reason.

"You've got to see the littering happen. You've got to see it coming out of the car or off the truck. That's where the hard part is," explained Wake County Sheriff Donny Harrison.

And litterbugs are usually not stupid enough to do it in front of a cop.

"Typically, people are not prone to throw something out on the road when they see a police officer," said Maj. J.C. Perry with the Raleigh Police Department.

"Where you do find a lot of people that are littering is if you're in an unmarked vehicle. You can see that more readily than you can in a marked unit," explained Jeff Gordon with the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

While catching people tossing trash on the road is a big part of the problem, there are also fewer people picking it up. Last year, the Department of Corrections, which puts prisoners on roadside cleanup, had its budget for that reduced by $2 million. That's a lot of trash left on the road.

But Sheriff Harrison says there is something citizens can do.

"You can call in," he said.

If you get a plate number and can identify the litterer, you can take that person to court.

And there's the Swat-A-Litterbug Program run by the Department of Transportation.

Click here to learn more

Fill out a form and the litterbug gets a letter from the colonel of the Highway Patrol.

"It's just a reminder letter saying hey, your vehicle was observed on this day throwing this trash out and we just want you to be aware of the consequences and of what you're doing to the environment," Gordon explained.

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