Report Our Littering Scum 

Compared to war with Iraq, the erratic stock market, skyrocketing gasoline prices, the hunt for Osama, the state budget crisis and any number of other topics upon which the safety and welfare of our planet hinge, our editorial crusade this week might seem a tad weak. As in Lite. Not That Big a Deal. Relatively Harmless.

But we care. What we care about is people throwing their cigarette butts out their car windows. Several weeks ago, we noticed a Nashville driver flick his butt out his electric window. Then we noticed another. And another. Pretty soon we were witnessing what appeared to be an airborne littering epidemic.

Ann Chapman, administrator for the Metro Beautification and Environment Commission, has seen it all before. “We start to see them when it begins getting warmer and people start rolling their windows down,” she says.

Weather aside, there’s another reason for what is an apparent increase in people choosing to throw their butts—or their gum wrappers, straws, pieces of paper or whatever else they’re too lazy to put in a trash can—out the window and into the air. Many new cars being sold today don’t have ashtrays. If you’re a smoker, and you want an ashtray, you have to add the ashtray as an option to your car. Many smokers obviously decline that option.

And that’s very, very bad. For one thing, cigarette butts take 17 years to biodegrade. Secondly, when cigarette butts are thrown on streets they often wash into the city’s storm water drainage system, where they add an element of toxicity to our waterways. Thirdly, the presence of so many butts on our streets and sidewalks, and in our yards and fields, makes us feel as if we’re living in an ashtray.

If you’re sick of seeing litterers operate with abandon, please know that help is available. And you can play a role in shaming the bad guys.

Begin by calling 862-8400 and asking for the Metro Beautification office. Tell them you would like a stack of litter report cards. These are post- cards you can use to report the offending litterers. The card asks that you provide the litterer’s license plate number, the location, date and time of the infraction, and the type of car the litterer was driving. Keep a stack of these cards in your car. When you see a litterer, simply fill it out and mail it in.

Your diligent team down at Beautification then sends the litterer a letter informing him that what he did is against the law. He is also sent a little trash bag and a portable ashtray to keep in his car. The letter is not only sent to the litterer—it’s also copied to the Metro Police Department and a state litter patrol officer. If a person gets two or three of these letters, then the litter patrol officer usually pays that person a visit and issues him a citation.

“We’ve had people helping report litterers to us for years,” Chapman says. “Some people, especially people who are on the road a lot, send in these reports by the handful.”

Call today and help stamp out litterbugs.

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