Litter experts say America is cleaner than it used to be. Unfortunately, our eyes too often tell us a different story as we travel through York County and many other parts of the state.
Nationwide, apparently, the news is good. Experts estimate that deliberate trash-tossing has fallen about 2 percent a year since the mid-1970s in the communities where it has been measured.
Volunteer litter gatherers say that U.S. beaches have fewer cigarette butts, beverage cans and foam packaging. In most communities, pooper-scooper laws now make walking considerably less hazardous. And even roadsides, which often are magnets for litter, are cleaner.
This is remarkable not only because it represents a changing attitude toward littering but also because it occurred as the population and the overall amount of debris has increased considerably. In other words, even with mountains more trash to deal with, Americans are doing a better job of reducing deliberate littering.
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Take New York City for example. Thirty years ago, nearly half of its streets were rated using an independent assessment system as filthy, with dog waste ranking as a serious contributor. Under the same rating system, 95 percent of the city's streets and sidewalks now are considered clean.
Experts cite several factors for the decline of litter. Better enforcement of litter laws, more convenient trash disposal areas and recycling are three big ones. More and more cities, especially tourist destinations, also learned that it makes economic sense to reduce litter.
In addition, it simply has become less socially acceptable to litter. Where, 30 years ago, people might have casually tossed trash from a car window or dropped litter on a city street, now they think twice about doing so.
But that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. South Carolina still has more than its share of litter.
Business owners along Carowinds Boulevard recently pinpointed Exit 90 off of Interstate 77 as one spot in need of a cleanup. Near the exit, which is the first I-77 exit in the state, are piles of fast-food bags, cans and other debris. Business owners have been lobbying the S.C. Department of Transportation for months to clean the area.
Everyone, no doubt, knows of other spots where litter seems to collect in abundance. And each year, crews who volunteer to clean up the shores of Lake Wylie produce hundreds of bags full of trash.
We are grateful for the changing attitude toward litter and the overall reduction across the nation. But we must remain diligent, not only refusing to litter ourselves but also working to convince others not to.
It's a big job, but, as the statistics over the past three decades testify, it's not an impossible one.
Even though Americans are tossing less trash, plenty of work remains to be done.
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