Editorial: Local, state officials need to do something about litter and trash

April 04, 2004

Danville is a trashy town, and it's particularly noticeable this time of year - when the winter's accumulation of cans, bottles and fast-food litter seems to sprout along with the new growth of spring.

It's against the law, of course, this constant tossing of litter onto the streets, yards and roadsides. It's a Class A misdemeanor under state law punishable with a fine of up to $500 or up to one year in jail or both.

But except in rare, blatant instances, it's virtually unenforceable. Who would argue that spread-thin police officers and sheriff's deputies should spend their time chasing litterers? Not us.

And we wouldn't argue that the people dedicated to trying to clean up the area, such as Boyle waste management coordinator Donna Fechter, should being doing more. People like Fechter are fighting a losing battle against trash with meager resources and should be praised for their work.


Certainly, as in most matters, education should be the key: Teach the children not to litter in hopes that the problem will work itself over time. Yet schoolchildren have been learning about litterbugs for decades, and the trash continues to accumulate.

No, what's needed is some way to convince people who blithely toss their waste out of the window that it's not in their best interest to do so - either that or make it in the best interest of somebody else to clean up after them.

For several years, Kentuckians concerned about the trash problem had a champion in the state legislature - former House Majority Leader Greg Stumbo, who's now the state's attorney general. Stumbo wasn't able to get much done on the issue but at least he kept it in the public eye.

In 1998, Stumbo sought passage of a "bottle bill," under which a deposit would be charged on cans and bottles that would encourage people to save them, rather than toss them, and also would make it worthwhile for other people to collect bottles and cans from roadsides and redeem them for cash.

By his 2002, his last legislative session, Stumbo had given up on passage of that idea and had proposed putting a half-cent "environmental impact fee" on all beverages including those sold at fast-food restaurants. He also proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow Kentuckians to vote on the "bottle bill" issue.

Stumbo's half-cent "fee" and his "bottle bill" amendment were both tossed out by legislators, and, as we said, Stumbo has moved onto bigger - if not necessarily better - things.

Where does that leave Danvillians disgusted by the trash we see everywhere? There are several options:

One, we can urge Gov. Ernie Fletcher to take on the trash issue. For an administration determined to improve tourism and the state's business climate, the issue is a good fit. It would improve the state's image.

Two, we can urge the Danville City Commission and the Boyle Fiscal Court to do what the state legislature has failed to do: pass a "bottle bill" and/or a trash tax. It's not just an issue of appearance.

Because of the concentration of litter-generating convenience stores and fast-food restaurants in Danville and Boyle County, our town's getting a trashy reputation. Who knows how that might influence the decisions of prospective businesses, industries, tourists or residents?

This in an issue our local elected leaders should take seriously and do something about.

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