Mount Vernon Letter: More Action Needed Against Litter

Mount Vernon Letter: More Action Needed Against Litter

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Thanks to all of the volunteers who participated in this year’s Little Hunting Creek cleanup, and to the workers of Fairfax County's Solid Waste Management Division, who every year promptly pick up and haul away the trash we collect.

This year, 175 volunteers worked at 17 cleanup sites along the creek, including three organized by state Sen. Scott Surovell and Del. Paul Krizek on the west side of Route 1, and 14 on the east side of Route 1, in Gum Springs, Riverside Estates, Stratford Landing, First River Farms, Colonel John R. Byers Park, and other locations. Our effort was part of the annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, sponsored by Alice Ferguson Foundation.

Little Hunting Creek cleanup volunteers picked up 423 bags of trash and recyclables, 29 tires, 10 shopping carts (mostly from Walmart, but also Costco, Michael’s, and Safeway), and many other items — a waterski, mannequin leg, large plastic alligator head, large outdoor planters, construction debris, marble countertop, lawn chairs, propane tank, road signs, bed springs, ottoman, fire pits, water heater, part of an old TV. After all that trash and litter was removed, it was a pleasure to see the natural beauty of the creek restored.

The Friends of Little Hunting Creek have been conducting annual cleanups since 2002, and unfortunately, the same amount of trash is always there the next year for us to pick up and the county to haul away. Plastic bottle litter accounts for an increasing proportion of the volume of trash and recyclables we pick up. Site leaders estimated that three quarters of the 423 bags of trash could have been recycled, and water bottles accounted for a large share of that.

The litter keeps on coming because there is no policy or law that would create an incentive for litterers to change their behavior. Police must catch litterers redhanded to enforce laws against litter. And while nearby jurisdictions (such as D.C. and Montgomery and Prince George’s County Md.) have taken steps that demonstrably reduce litter — such as bottle deposit fees and plastic bag fees or bans — Fairfax County and Virginia have not. Manufacturers and retailers cannot be blamed for the litterers’ antisocial behavior, but they can be faulted for enabling it. They do not take responsibility for the litter that their products create. They actively oppose changes in law and policy (such as fees or bans) that are known to reduce litter. This year, we invited Walmart, Costco, and International Bottled Water Association employees to participate in our cleanup. They didn’t reply to our invitations, and they didn’t show up at our cleanup. I suspect they don’t want to see how their products despoil our beautiful tidal creek. Perhaps they’ve heard the words of Pope Francis in Laudato Si, ”The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” and are ashamed to realize that their industry makes a substantial contribution to that immense pile.

The Friends of Little Hunting Creek are weary of picking up other people’s litter and trash, and we would like help from the county and private industry to prevent litter before it despoils the natural beauty of Little Hunting Creek and undermines attempts to revitalize neighborhoods and commercial development along the Route 1 corridor. We ask the county and our Virginia General Assembly to implement changes in law and policy that could be effective in changing behavior, and we ask private industry to cease its lobbying and opposition to the needed changes. And, of course, we encourage individuals to separate their trash and recyclables, to dispose of each properly, and to never, ever litter.

Betsy Martin


Friends of Little Hunting Creek