(Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District)

While Fairfax County wages war against mosquitoes in its “Fight the Bite” campaign, the folks in Wake County, North Carolina, are engaged in a different battle. Promoted by Wake County Keep America Beautiful, “Fight the Blight” targets litter and graffiti.

As part of the promotion, Litter Bug Exterminator Kits are available to all Wake County residents. A few of the items in the kit are a car litter bag, pocket ashtray, litter law fact sheet, key chain, and Swat-A-Litterbug cards.

Swat-A-Litterbug cards?

The Swat-A-Litterbug program is sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). The way the program works is simple. If you witness a single act of littering, such as someone throwing a cigarette butt out of the window of his or her vehicle, you note the license plate number as well as the date, time, and location of the littering.

Then you report the litter violation, anonymously, in one of three ways.

  • Fill out and mail a Swat-A-Litterbug report card to NCDOT
  • Call NCDOT’s toll-free number (1-877-dot-4you)
  • Go online at www.ncdot.org/~beautification.

Why doesn’t Virginia have a litter prevention program like this one?

In 1990 we did, according to Alan Lassiter, who manages the Waste Tire Management, Litter and Recycling Program for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). It was called RAV for Report a Vehicle. People could anonymously report litterers, and DEQ would send out a warning notice.

Lassiter says the program was terminated for two reasons. First, because the submissions were made anonymously, the person reporting the violation never knew what, if anything, happened. Second, and more importantly, there were serious errors in the reporting. Either deliberately or mistakenly, licenses were recorded and reported incorrectly. Some of the “victims” complained all the way up to the governor’s office. At that point, the governor terminated the program.

Today, even if DEQ wanted to reinstate the program, there would be no funding for it, says Lassiter.

If it didn’t work in Virginia, why does litter reporting work in North Carolina?

George Kapetanakis is with NCDOT’s Office of Beautification Programs. “We look at this program in a different light,” said Kapetanakis. “The purpose of the program is to educate and inform,” Kapetanakis explains. “Even if a person wasn’t the offender, sending a letter to him or her does more good than harm. There is no threat, and there is no record kept of the offender’s name, address, or license plate.”

In fact, the notification letter that is signed by the commander of the Highway Patrol apologizes up front for any mistaken identity.

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