On the 44th Earth Day, littering still a problem in New Hampshire
As the snow finally melts, it reveals the first patches of sprouting, green grass. But it also exposes something else: trash.
“It’s not what you want to see when the snow is melting,” said Sara Persechino, who for the past three years has helped organize an annual trash cleanup in Hopkinton in honor of Earth Day.
Today marks the 44th celebration of the environmental holiday and groups across the state are organizing and participating in trash pickups. Despite growing environmental awareness and education, littering is still a problem along highways, roads and trails across New Hampshire.
“It’s always going to be an inherent problem,” said state Highway Maintenance Administrator Caleb Dobbins. “It’s the nature of the beast.”
The trash can range from someone tossing a cigarette butt out the window, he said, to something blowing out of a car accidentally. “Even if no one throws it out, there’s going to be a certain level of it,” he said. Generally, he added, the more traffic on the roads, the more litter.
Last year, the state Department of Transportation spent about $870,000 on trash pickup, the majority of which paid for labor and disposal costs. For year-round cleanup, the DOT also relies on a network of volunteers. The groups pick up trash along roughly a third of the 9,000 miles of state-maintained roads, Dobbins said.
Records detailing the last seven years of the volunteer trash cleanup show the problem isn’t getting drastically worse, or markedly better, but rather maintaining a relatively flat line. In 2013, volunteers collected 34.5 tons of litter statewide, more than 803 cleanups; that compares with 37.6 tons in 2012, more than 881 cleanups, and 38 tons in 2008, during 959 cleanups.
“There will always be folks that are going to have a different set of morals, and they are going to leave trash,” said Chris Gamache, chief of the state trails bureau. “There will always be a need to do some cleanup.”
The most common things people throw out along the trails are beer and soda cans and water bottles, Gamache said, “because no one wants to carry them back out, they don’t want to get their bag wet.”
But the problem hasn’t been getting any worse, and it has decreased a little bit, he said. It’s the minority who leave their trash.
“I think it has gotten better,” said Eric Feldbaum, community recreation specialist for the state Division of Parks and Recreation. “Education plays a huge role.”
The Seacoast and state parks with heavy traffic are the hardest hit by trash, and people most often discard wrappers or cans, Feldbaum said. The state relies on a carry in, carry out program, he said, and in an absence of trash cans, some people leave litter behind because it’s easier than carting it out. Today, Feldbaum and his colleagues will do a trash cleanup at Odiorne Point State Park.
In New Hampshire, littering is a misdemeanor and carries a fine of $297.60. Last year, the state saw 102 convictions and a total fine amount of $29,742, according to the state Division of Motor Vehicles.
Over the last four years, the number of convictions has ranged between 102 and 181.
People who litter must be caught in the act in order to receive a ticket, which makes the law hard to enforce, said Roberta Bourque of the state Department of Safety.
The department sees roughly 100 cases on an annual basis. “It’s difficult because a person will deny it,” she said.
Recently, New Hampshire Fish and Game began using cameras to catch people who litter, with some success, Col. Marty Garabedian said.
When officers notice an area is or has become a dumping ground, he said, the department sets up surveillance details.
“Obviously it is something that concerns us all the time,” he said.
Feldbaum urges people visiting state parks to pick up trash, even if it’s not theirs. “You are doing good for everybody,” he said.
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)