The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Great American Cleanup great, but how to stop littering remains a puzzle

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, City Hall, Justin Shields, Mayor Kay Halloran, Tom Podzimek on May 21, 2008 at 5:38 pm

Litter drives board members of the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency nuts.

Board members were appreciative enough this week when they heard from the agency’s education specialist, Stacie Johnson, who reported that more than 700 volunteers turned out locally May 18 for the Great American Cleanup.

Board member Justin Shields, a Cedar Rapids City Council member, said one thing that preoccupies some doing the cleanup is who is doing the littering and why. The volunteers don’t litter, so why do others? he asked.

Shields said he often watches people roll down a vehicle window and toss stuff out, and he wondered what communities can do to avoid litter.

The upbeat Johnson suggested that some litter actually is unintentional litter that just pops off trucks.

Be that as it may, Linda Langston, board member and Linn County supervisor, said it’s clear what is intentional. Litter lives near fast-food restaurants, she said.

This prompted Tom Podzimek, board chairman and Cedar Rapids council member, to suggest that it might make sense to have fast-food restaurants pay a fee or deposit to help pay for communities to clean up litter, “because we’re tired of picking it out of our streams,” he said.

Board member Mark Jones, the city’s solid waste/recycling manager, said a fast-food restaurant considers it litter if its packaging is in its parking lot, but when it is two doors down, it’s advertising.

The state of Iowa has increased the littering fine to $70 from $35, but it’s not clear if that has prompted local jurisdictions to hand out more tickets for littering.

Board member Pat Ball, the city’s utilities director, said the community needed to figure out a way to make it “socially unacceptable” to litter.

Old River Road SW and Otis Road SE are known as regular littering site for major items like couches and appliances, Langston said. It costs local jurisdictions real money, she said, to pick the stuff up and deposit it at the landfill.

Mayor Kay Halloran, also on the solid waste board, remembered when the city of Cedar Rapids had a bulky item pickup program, which began several years ago as a neighborhood cleanup in her neighborhood, Wellington Heights. You could watch late at night as people from outside of Cedar Rapids drove in and dropped their couches, appliances and other junk in the neighborhood for city pickup, she said.

 

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