A new survey from Keep Iowa Beautiful says fast-food bags, cigarettes and other garbage tossed out along Iowa roadways costs the state a lot of money to clean up every year. Gerry Schnepf is the executive director of the organization. “About 17 million dollars a year to clean up after ourselves on our roadways and our streets and our byways,” Schnepf says.
Keep Iowa Beautiful worked with the Iowa DOT and DNR to put together the latest study of roadside litter. Schnepf says the cleanup cost remains high, but there is some positive news when compared to the last survey in 2002. “At the same time, compared to 11 or 12 years ago, we found out that there is a reduction in certain areas of roadside litter — packaging, and tobacco products and some of the plastics and paper,” Schnepf says. “So there seems to be some impact in trying to reduce the amount of litter on the roadsides.”
He says public opinion polls also show 96-percent of Iowans “agree” to some extent that it is important to maintain a clean environment. “I’d like to say we can take credit for it, but I think Iowans are coming around to the aspect that this is an expensive thing to do. We treat it sometimes as pretty trivial, but when you see the figures like this, that’s pretty significant dollars. That’s just wasted money that doesn’t need to go into picking up after people,” according to Schnepf.
Schnepf believes the way to stop littering is to change the mindset of Iowans. “And you’ve got to tackle that right away at the youth level while they are in school, as youngsters, and parents have a job there,” he says. Schnepf says an easy way to get kids involved is to take them out to clean up litter and show them the problem.
Schnepf says changing the mindset leads to a new respect and desire to keep things beautiful. “If you don’t have respect for the property and other people’s property, then you don’t have respect in general probably for a lot of things,” Schnepf explains. “When you clean up an area you can feel a sense of pride and feel good about it. In you neighborhood and your home, it’s all about building that sense of pride and ownership in where you live and work.”
Changing the mindset isn’t the only thing Schnepf wants to see changed. He says the fine for littering in Iowa needs to be raised. “Seventy dollars is not very significant and it probably doesn’t encourage a lot of ticket writing by the enforcement community. If that figure was a little bit higher — we suggested 250 dollars — there’s some states have $3,000, one state has $6,000 and imprisonment,” Schnepf says.
The new survey found reduction of roadside litter in four categories compared to 12 years ago. Packaging liter was reduced by 21-percent, tobacco products by 44-percent, other plastics by 33-percent, and other paper was reduced by 58-percent.
You can find out more about the survey at the Keep Iowa Beautiful website at: www.keepiowabeautiful.com.