Editorial | South Carolina must address litter problem or pay price in tourism

The following editorial appeared Tuesday in the Aiken Standard:

South Carolina’s latest distinction as the nation’s “dirtiest” state won’t do us any favors when it comes to growing tourism, our greatest economic driver.

A national anti-litter group recently gave the Palmetto State the eye-raising ranking, which rates states based on a number of factors, including litter, recycling legislation and state waste disposal.

While such scorecards are always hard to give complete credence to, being recognized at the top of any list ranking dirtiest states is disconcerting. The report criticized the state for its lack of litter taxation, “container deposits” that it says are proven to reduce litter and “comprehensive” recycling rules and legislation. Imposing a litter tax is an ill-advised solution, but a greater concentration on cleanup efforts could prove beneficial, especially for a state that relies so much on tourist dollars.

The scorecard from the National Anti-Litter Group also alleges that South Carolina has failed to promote the state’s anti-littering slogan, “Keep it beautiful, South Carolina.”

That’s debatable, but South Carolina could certainly do better in punishing those who litter in our state. Fines for littering in South Carolina often get reduced to about $100, according to Rodney Cooper, solid waste field supervisor for Aiken County. In states such as Florida, however, when a $1,000 fine is charged to someone, it’s virtually always imposed. Less leniency for those who litter would be a step in the right direction.

Aiken County is taking the wise approach of trying to ensure younger generations don’t make the mistake of littering. The County sends a litter control officer along with a S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control representative to schools to speak with students about littering, recycling and penalties for not following the law.

The state’s Adopt-A-Highway campaign is another positive program that allows a group to “adopt” a two-mile stretch of a state roadway and commit to four litter pickups on that portion of the road each year for two years. Such an initiative should help to instill greater pride in our state and makes sure we’re working toward a cleaner South Carolina.

Keeping our state beautiful is vital for our economy as litter undoubtedly has a negative impact on tourism and the state’s ability to attract businesses. Ensuring litter laws are fully enforced makes sure our message of a beautiful South Carolina actually stays relevant.