Residents in James City County will have to think even harder about tossing their cigarette butts out the window now as the Zero Tolerance for Litter campaign takes effect.
This past June, the county passed the new Zero Tolerance for Litter campaign which is aimed to make residents more aware of not only the penalties that come with littering, but other effects such as a decrease in tourism or an increase in crime, said Bradley J. Rinehimer, James City County’s chief of police.
Litter and crime
“Crime is directly related to litter,” Rinehimer said. “When people show they don’t take care of their surroundings, then people are more likely to commit crimes in that area.”
While Rinehimer couldn’t state specific areas where this occurs, in his 23 years in the county, he has seen a correlation between areas of litter and areas of higher small criminal activity, meaning non-violent offenses such as graffiti or property damage, in general.
With the new campaign, Rinehimer said police plan to enforce action against littering even more.
“One of the messages we want to get out to people is that whether it’s a cigarette butt, a MacDonald’s bag or a mattress, it’s littering.”
The policy plans to enforce the litter law and public education with the “Catch a litterbug” program, according to the county’s website.
The program encourages residents to report roadside debris, and Rinehimer expects that will help identify those doing the littering.
According to the litter law in James City County code, offenders can face a fine of anywhere between $1,000 to $3,000 and jail time, depending on the severity of the littering.
Police also are working to identify illegal littering and dumping sites to place more enforcement in that area and partner with youth offenders to deter future criminal behavior.
Additionally, to help with the litter prevention efforts, the county will host the 5th annual Litter & Recycling Expo from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 3 at Jolly Pond Convenience Center.
$75K in extra cleanup
The new policy comes at the push of the Clean County Commission and the Keep James City County Beautiful litter prevention subcommittee.
“People will just toss things out on the roads and say ‘someone will clean it up,’” said Dawn Oleksy, environmental sustainability coordinator for the county. “And yes, someone will. But it’s going to cost you money.”
Much of the litter accumulates on rural roadways in the northern part of the county with the Stonehouse district measuring as the most littered, Olesky said.
Currently, there are quarterly cleanups from VDOT to take care of litter on the state roads, but Oleksy said the county has had to subsidize these cleanups and implement five more, costing the county $75,000.
“Right now it’s a few times a year but if we’re not careful, it’ll be six times, then eight and so on,” said Kensett Teller, co-chair of the Keep James City County Beautiful litter prevention subcommittee. “These are taxpayers dollars that could be used for other things if people would just think twice about what they’re putting on the ground.”
These cleanups come at an effort not only to protect the environment, but to make the county appeal to visitors.
“No one wants to go on vacation somewhere that has more litter than where they came,” Olesky said.
Right now, neither Rinehimer, Olesky nor Teller feel that the litter is at a dire level but they want to stop it before it gets there.
“It’s more than just offensive to look at, it impacts our way of life,” Teller said. “We aren’t there yet but if things keep going the way they are, we could get there if we don’t pay attention.”