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Editorial: Littering more than a nuisance, it's a crime

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LITTERING is one of those offenses too often regarded as little more than a nuisance.

For many the aggravation comes from a sense that nature is despoiled by the tons of plastic cups, cellophane wrappers, scratched-off lottery tickets, cigarette butts and sundry other items of waste that are strewn on lawns and roadsides.

That certainly does have an adverse effect on the quality of life in a community like Columbus, but there are other nearby areas that are dealing with a far more pronounced and dangerous form of littering.

Roadside litter has always been a problem on Bartholomew County roads, but the volume of materials cast aside is much greater than in Columbus, where discarded trash consists largely of individual items tossed from passing cars or by pedestrians.

In Bartholomew County, roadsides are used as dumping grounds for large quantities of household garbage. Instead of taking the materials to a landfill or collection point, offenders have randomly dropped off materials — some bagged, others not — near and in some cases in roadways.

In a story in The Republic last week, Bartholomew County officials recounted how road crews had to remove a load of shingles that were dumped in the middle of Popeye’s Lane between County Roads 600N and 700N. That the road is lightly traveled provides no sense of relief, since left untended the pile of shingles posed a hazard that could have resulted in a traffic accident.

Some of the piles of trash encountered by road crews have been so dense as to require heavy equipment to remove them. Workers attempting to dig through the materials by hand faced the possibility of injuring themselves on unseen sharp objects.

The county litterbugs also feel no constraint as to the size of the materials they discard — mattresses, sofas, chairs and other large household items are common sights on local roads.

Owing to the wide expanse of remote areas in the county, catching these offenders in the act is nearly impossible. Road crews do try to identify the source of some of the trash, but even when their search provides a lead, making the offense stand up in court could be difficult under a statute that requires proof of intent.

There are penalties upon conviction of an offender. Simple littering could result in a fine of $1,000, but there are instances — such as proximity to waterways — when that amount can be increased ten-fold.

The best weapon police have available is citizen involvement. When residents happen upon someone in the act of dumping trash on a roadside, they should collect pertinent information, such as a license plate number, and contact police immediately.

A few of those $1,000 fines given wide publicity can have a significant deterrent effect.

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