Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dirty, Dirty, Dirty.

I took a walk yesterday to check on a friend's puppy; it was a nice day for a walk, considering that it's early autumn, but still feels like summer. And it was an ideal day, at that. Warm, but not too hot, with low humidity. Perfection, with one major exception: the streets of Trenton are filthy. In my six block walk, I found quite a bit of broken glass shimmering in the sunlight — from an automobile window, as well as glass bottles; in addition, there were cans, fast food debris, plastic bags, broken toys, pizza crusts, and just random junk. Everywhere.

It is easy to sit back and bitch and complain; I know, because I do it all the time. But I do like to know why things are the way they are, too. So, why do people litter? I think there are a few factors at play here:
  • Lack of knowledge of the environmental effects of littering.
  • Litter has already accumulated. The more litter present the more people are inclined to litter.
  • Lack of social pressure to do the right thing.
  • Absence of penalties or consistent enforcement.
  • Number, placement and appearance of disposal containers at or near the site.
  • People who litter often feel no sense of pride in the areas they are littering.
  • They don’t view the item as litter. That’s often the case with cigarette butts.
I live between two schools, and I was around the day the teachers took the school kids on an excursion to place little "no dumping" plaques on all of the area sewer drains; we got one right in front of our house.

I was excited to see the little ones march up the street from their school, with their teachers, curious to know what they were up to. I heard the teacher tell her students that the sewer drains are not garbage cans, and I was glad to hear that: the older siblings of these little ones come flying through our neighborhood all the time and whip their garbage at that sewer drain. Maybe these little kids might be able to influence their older family members. Failing that (and I'm pretty sure, now, that the older family members will not be swayed), maybe, MAYBE, these young kids will not grow into litterers. Maybe? But I don't know, because here's what happened next: I know they're just kids, but the little sign was placed with utter lack ceremony, and I think that represents the general sentiment around here about littering: people have no pride, and there's very little social pressure to do the right thing. And people continue to use that drain as their garbage can. There are other big factors contributing to the Trenton trash piles. In my opinion, the next biggest problem is the absence of penalties or consistent enforcement.

Old Mill Hill in his blog yesterday complained about all of the menus and advertisements from local businesses whirling around his neighborhood, and suggested that the City make those establishments take responsibility for their messes. Well, lo and behold, the City of Trenton does in fact have an ordinance on the books that addresses this very problem. The City has very detailed guidelines for all of us — residents (owners and renters) and businesses — in this city when it comes to litter. But here's what the city has to say about Old Mill Hill's specific concerns:

§ 150-12. Handbills and circulars.

No person shall cast or place, or cause to be cast or placed, in any of the streets of the City or on the sidewalks thereof, or into vestibules or yards, or upon porches of any dwelling houses or other buildings, or on private property within the limits of the City or into any vehicle while on the public highways or public places thereof any paper, advertisement, handbill, circular or wastepaper; provided, however, that nothing contained herein shall be held to apply to newspapers and addressed envelopes delivered to subscribers and addressees.

Litter — in every other municipality except ours, and perhaps Camden (that I know of, firsthand) — does give rise to substantial increases in municipal cleaning costs. But other municipalities fine offenders, thus offsetting those costs. It would seem to me that the City of Trenton is sitting on a gold mine here, if only we'd simply send out the officers/officials to start issuing tickets. It turns out, the City of Trenton already has perfectly good legislation which outlines the procedures we should be following to keep our city clean. It's lengthy, but interesting reading. I'll continue to babble, beneath the code.

§ 150-7. Clearing of litter from open private property by City.

A. Notice to remove. The enforcing officer, or his/her duly designated agent or agents, is authorized and empowered to notify the owner of any open or vacant private property, or the lessee or agent of the owner, to properly dispose of litter or remove grass, weeds or other impediments located on the property which is dangerous to public health, safety and welfare.

B. Service of notice. Notice shall be by registered or certified mail, addressed to the lessee, owner or his/her agent at his/her last known address, or served personally upon the lessee, owner or agent.

C. Noncompliance. Upon the failure, neglect or refusal of any lessee, owner or agent so notified to properly dispose of any litter, grass, weeds or other impediments within 10 days after receipt of the written notice specified in Subsection A of this section; or within 10 days after the date of the notice in the event it is returned to the City by the Post Office Department because of inability to make delivery thereof, provided that the notice was properly addressed to the last known address of the lessee, owner or agent. Whenever in the opinion of the Health Officer such nuisance constitutes an actual menace to health, (s)he shall proceed forthwith to cause the nuisance to be abated.

D. Charges added to tax bill. When the City has effected the removal of litter and grass, weeds or other impediments, or has paid for its removal, the actual cost thereof shall, unless paid by the owner prior thereto, be charged to the owner of the property on the next regular tax bill forwarded to the owner by the City. The charge shall be due and payable by the owner at the time set for payment of the tax bill.

E. Recorded statement constitutes lien. Where the full amount due the City is not paid by the owner within 30 days after the disposal of such litter or removal of grass, weeds or other impediments as specified in Subsections A, B and C of this section, then and in that case the Director of Public Works shall cause to be recorded in the City Clerk's office a sworn statement showing the cost and expense incurred for the work, the date the work was done and the location of the property on which the work was done. The recording of this sworn statement shall constitute a lien on the property and shall remain in full force and effect for the amount due in principal and interest, plus costs of court, if any, for collection, until final payment has been made. The costs and expenses shall be collected in the manner fixed by law for the collection of taxes and shall be subject to a delinquent penalty at the same rate of taxes in the event they are not paid in full on or before the date the tax bill upon which the charge appears becomes delinquent. Sworn statements recorded in accordance with the provisions hereof shall be prima facie evidence that all legal formalities have been complied with and that the work has been done properly and satisfactorily, and shall be full notice to every person concerned that the amount of the statement, plus interest, constitutes a charge against the property designated or described in the statement and that the same is due and collectible as provided by law.

§ 150-13. Violations and penalties.

Any person who violates the provisions this chapter with respect to litter shall be subject to a fine of $50 for a first offense and, for subsequent offenses, shall be subject to the penalties provided in Chapter 1, Article III, General Penalty, provided that the court shall have the discretion in all cases to modify any penalties provided herein upon a showing by the defendant that the offense occurred despite reasonable and diligent efforts made to prevent the offense from occurring and/or to maintain the property in compliance with the trash set-out regulations.


How on earth can our council members even PONDER the introduction of new legislation when the city's enforcement track record is so friggin' piss poor? Why do they bother when they must know their well-written proposals, and time spent generating support, and genuine good intentions, prove to be a fruitless exercise?

Two Trenton bloggers, Paul Harris and Greg Forester covered last week's executive council session, and and reported that members of council felt that the city's administration does not respect the council as a legislative body. It's apparent from my point of view that the city's administration doesn't really respect much of anything or anyone. Anyway, I hope council will fight on our behalf, as well as their own. After all, why should they even bother to exist, if they have zero effectiveness?

But back to the litter.

My husband and I keep an extra bin just inside our fence, and we toss litter into it every day. We probably put out at least one extra bag of trash every other week and at least one extra barrel of recyclables every month. So, I hope council will work for us to get this city cleaned up; the revenue from fines will help pay for more police officers and improved city services. And a cleaner city will evoke more pride, and hopefully, less litter in the future, and possibly even less crime.

It's not all on government, though. There are actions, that we, as individuals and groups, can take, to help keep things tidier.
  • the biggest no-brainer is to not litter ourselves.
  • encourage others not to litter.
  • if you know teachers in the schools here, ask them to get involved, and stay involved with litter awareness campaigns.
  • ask that businesses practice waste reduction; for example, they don't have to pack everything into plastic bags; they don't have to engage in lit drops. If you have a particularly bad littering company in your area, consider talking with your neighbors and petitioning the business to clean up, or to stop engaging in messy practices; you can boycott, as well.
  • encourage business owners to sponsor street/neighborhood clean-up programs.
  • implore your council representative to enforce the litter ordinances.
  • participate in litter clean-ups in your neighborhood; or just pick it up if you see it.
Maybe if we get a handle on physical litter/pollution, we can next turn our attention to another quality-of-life concern that needs addressing in the hood: noise pollution.


Miss Karen said...

It does make you think ... would the city council rather have police ticketing baggy pants wearers or litterers? And really, isn't it a moot point, since they really will have time and inclination to do neither? In the meantime, I think I will start taking 2 plastic bags with me when I walk the puppy--one for poop, and one for litter.

pbaman said...

It is a shame that people litter at all. I pick up so much in my neighborhood. Most of the neighbors do. I hate cigarette butts! The sad thing is that, like you said, too many people just litter. They think nothing of it. If they are caught, they should get a summons to go to court. The city should have a lot more garbage cans around. People who get community serviec should have to empty them, and clean up the streets. I like what the teachers and children did.