You only get one chance to make a first impression.
Two decades ago, when Lou Holtz arrived to take over the University of South Carolina football program, his first view of the Palmetto State wasn’t a positive one.
“They must have the cleanest cars in the country because all the trash is on the outside,” Holtz told a reporter.
The comment ruffled feathers and touched off anti-litter movements across the state. But it didn’t entirely solve the problem.
Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker, at a recent Rotary Club of Aiken meeting, said litter is the “biggest single constituent complaint I get.”
Anyone driving around Aiken County can see the problem. It’s particularly bad along some of the major highways and intersections.
We all know there is no excuse for littering. Fortunately, leaders like Bunker are speaking out and trying to increase awareness.
Keep Aiken County Beautiful conducted the first Community Appearance Index earlier this year. The tool, according to the website, visually assesses the overall appearance of communities through litter, graffiti and junk vehicles, among other things.
At least 10 roads were checked in each of the eight council districts and rated on a scale of 1-4 with 1 being the best and 4 being the worst. The Litter Index came in at 2.2 for Aiken County, which is considered slightly littered by Keep America Beautiful standards.
Bunker described the littering problem as a cultural issue and one that needs to change.
“There are a lot of people for whom rolling down the window and throwing out (trash from) their fast food is just accepted,” he said. “It’s just fine because they’ve always done it that way.”
Enforcement can be problematic because officers need to observe the litter bugs in order to issue tickets.
A recent letter to the editor also addressed the topic and correctly pointed out that the volunteers who participate in the Adopt-A-Highway trash pickup program can make a small difference. The author’s group recently picked up more than 500 alcoholic beverage containers, the majority beer cans or bottles, along the stretch of highway they patrol.
Why does this matter? For starters, civic pride is at stake. No one wants to live in a community filled with litter. Aiken and its surrounding areas are quite charming and attract thousands of visitors each year.
And then there is the potential economic impact. Bunker said it’s embarrassing when county leaders bring in potential clients “who are not used to this kind of thing.”
Let’s band together to cut down on litter and keep our county beautiful.