Marshals Take Down Litterbugs

The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO), Grove City, is hoping a little peer pressure will make people in Franklin County, Ohio, think twice before they toss that candy wrapper out the window. To curb Ohio's growing litter problem, the Franklin County organization has empowered citizens, allowing them to reprimand their neighbors who improperly dispose of their trash.

SWACO administrators kicked off their “Stop Litter-Litter Stop” public relations program at the 2003 Ohio State Fair in August and encouraged local citizens to become “litter marshals.” According to Mike Long, SWACO executive director, “There's a lot of interest in anti-littering programs. On one day [of the fair], we signed up 1,600 people.”

Every litter marshal receives a kit that includes a reusable litter bag, reporting pad and pen, all of which are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled material. When marshals see someone littering, they can fill in the fields of requested information on the pad, such as the license plate number, the time, date and location of the incident. A call to “1-866-X-Litter” is the easiest way to report the violation, or the litter marshal can report incidents on SWACO's Web site.

The offender then is sent a litter letter from the Franklin County Sheriff's department, reminding the person that littering in Ohio could result in a $500 fine. The litter letter has no legal authority, but it is an appeal to the conscience of Ohioans to take more pride in their state. “There's been no effective way to curb littering,” Long says. “The best way to have it sink in and be educational is to have volunteers provide peer pressure at the grass roots level.”

Currently, the program only is in Franklin County, but through a partnership with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, SWACO hopes to make the program statewide. “We're building it to a statewide program, one county at a time,” he says.

On the Interstate-71 corridor south of Columbus, Ohio, known as the litter enforcement area, blue Department of Transportation signs advise motorists to tune to AM 1630 for the latest news on the litter marshal program. The low-power station, which broadcasts public service announcements on the penalties for littering as well as names of those caught littering, is licensed to a landfill in Grove City, Ohio. “We're looking at different ways to get our message out to the mass media,” Long says. “And the impact [of the messages] can have a statewide effect.”