Mattresses, Coke cans, & McDonald's bags: DOT puts new emphasis on litter clean-up

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Chipotle containers, Dr. Pepper cans, bits of twine, and that's just for starters.

"We've found cash. We've found candy bars," said Mike Bagley, the South Carolina Department of Transportation's Resident Maintenance Engineer for Lexington County.

"We've seen mattresses on the side of the road," added SCDOT Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall. "We've seen entire bags full of trash. Obviously, McDonald's bags are frequent."

On the side of I-20 in Lexington County, Hall and Bagley joined their men and women for a significant kick-off of sorts – a renewed effort to clean up litter across the state.

"Every single county in the state – all 46 counties – we have DOT taking a day out of our normal work schedule to go out and pick up trash along our highways," Hall said while standing in front of two dump trucks full of litter in orange bags. "This just represents the work of one twelve-person crew working for just a few hours here on I-20 in Lexington County."

Hall said she's heard the complaints of unsightly litter and decided to do something about it.

From now on, there will be major clean-up days in the spring and fall and other clean-up days and more mowing throughout the year.

"I'm proud that we've got a lot of support to get this state cleaned up because it's nasty," said Rep. Bill Hixon (R-North Augusta). "It's terrible. I mean, you know, where I live in North Augusta, I live on the edge of Georgia and South Carolina. When I drive into Georgia, it's clean, but as soon as I turn around and come back into South Carolina, it's like I described – somebody opened up the back of a trash truck and just left everything along the highway."

After the clean-up had stopped for several years, Representative Hixon is happy to see the litter-filled orange bags again, but those bags alone won't fix the problem.

Right now, Hixon – who's also a constable in North Augusta – says litter tickets are so expensive they're not working.

"I spend many hours riding in patrol cars," he said. "I've never ridden with a police officer that's written a true ticket for littering. Most of the officers don't want to have somebody pay a ticket that's $400-and-some-odd for flicking out a cigarette butt, or candy wrapper, or a coke can blowing out of their truck or something like that."

Hixon is just one of many lawmakers sponsoring a bill that would make average tickets – for litter less than 15 pounds – $25 and allows judges to give litter bugs community service to pick up more trash. It also defines "illegal dumping" and sets the penalties for litter that exceeds 15 pounds. Supporters of the bill say it would give law enforcement and judges more discretion to punish litterbugs.

"It passed the House like 100-and-something to 4, and those 4 are the 4 that normally vote against everything," said Rep. Hixon.

Now, Hixon said, the bill needs to Senate's support, and time is running out this legislative session. Even if it fails to become law this year, Hixon says he'll refile the bill next session – all in the hopes of helping SCDOT and others make South Carolina cleaner.

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