WASHINGTON — Tuesday is Earth Day, but April is Litter Enforcement Month and local law enforcement in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. have dedicated the month to vigorously enforcing litter laws.
That means area police departments in D.C. and Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have increased patrols looking to ticket or arrest people who litter or who dump illegally. Clara Elias, the program manager for the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, says the goal is “to raise awareness about littering as a crime in the region.”
“We work with local police departments; it’s sort of like seat belt safety month, but this is about teaching the public about how littering is a crime,” she says.
Litter and illegal dumping have hurt local rivers and hurt neighborhoods. Studies show a correlation between lots of litter and increase in crime.
The foundation is an environmental education non-profit which introduced the first Potomac River Watershed Cleanup in 1989. But Elias says the foundation felt the need to do more and to try to tackle the litter problem.
Elias says that in 2008, the foundation surveyed 1,000 people to find what motivates people to litter.
“Only six percent of the people that we interviewed thought there was a chance they could get caught and fined for littering,” Elias says.
That’s when foundation members realized they needed to do something that would change people’s behavior about littering. That year, they held the first Litter Enforcement Week, and in 2010 they expanded it into Litter Enforcement Month.
“Not only do they have volunteers to help picking up litter throughout the month, but local police departments are doing their part,” Elias says.