A Problem with Litter: Muncie, Ind.

Litter is a problem everywhere. However, in Muncie it is a considerably visible issue

By Hannah Patton

Trash and debris can be seen all throughout Muncie — in the streets, along highways, in yards and in the trees. The city has a combination of factors that create the perfect storm for producing large amounts of litter.

According the 2014 American State Litter Scorecard, Indiana is the third dirtiest state in the country, right behind South Carolina and Nevada, and the first worst state in the Midwest region.

Some elements that contribute to Indiana’s low score include: lack of litter taxation, container deposit legislation, comprehensive recycling rules and an absence of a state-specific litter prevention slogan. The state also has a high chance for debris-related fatalities, rating -4.5 out of -5 according to the 2014 American State Litter Scorecard Individual Indicators table.

Accordging to the Indiana Department of Transportation, “Litter is blown away by wind and traffic or carried by water. It moves until trapped by a curb, building or fence. Once litter has accumulated, it invites people to add more.” In Muncie, average wind speed throughout the year is between 12–28mph, according to wind patterns recorded on Metroblue.com.

Tom Morales, program manager and educatior of litter for Keep America Beautiful, said, “There are a few factors that help benchmark littering rates in an area — Written Expectations, Infrastructure, Persuasion, and Rewards & Penalties. If an area does not have things like litter laws/ordinances in place, proper education for community members, and enough recycling and trash bins around the public spaces then it is more prone to littering.”

Morales said that the most important thing Americans can do to reduce littering is to change behaviors.

“If we are able to educate citizens about the harms associated with littering and provide the right tools/resources then we can prevent litter and make our communities clean, green, and beautiful.”

The most commonly littered item in America are cigarette butts, according to Litter in America, the 2009 national litter research findings of Keep America Beautiful. Cigarette butts make up 65 percent of all littered items.

This can be contributed to the fact that a mere 10 percent of cigarette butts are appropriately disposed of, partly due to there not being enough ash receptacles, according to the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program.

Smoot Landscaping, a locally-owned business, deals with litter first-hand every day, on every job. The company covers 90 percent of Muncie’s commercial and residential landscaping jobs, as well as eight other counties in Indiana.

CEO Chelsea Smoot, who runs the business with her husband Aaron, said that her landscapers often pick up trash before mowing, clean out ditches and perform parking lot sweeps which consists of picking up trash.

“It’s our little go-to statement every morning,” Smoot said, “we want it to look better than when we showed up.”

Smoot said that the most common item her landscapers pick up are cigarette butts, fast-food bags and cups.

“Compared to the other properties that we take care of, I think that Muncie is probably one of the worst ones,” Smoot said. “I kind of get the impression that the population here doesn’t really care about litter, obviously. I don’t think that they care more or less about the appearance of the town. It seems to me that if everyone were to take care of their own property, then things would be a lot better.”

Jesse Williams, the operations manager in sales for Smoot Landscaping, has dealt with litter on the job.

“Mainly it’s a lot of paper, bags from resturants or cups, gatorade bottles, just stuff that people throw out of their car,” Williams said. “I’ve found some burnt spoons, dirty diapers — it’s pretty gross what people throw out.”

Another aspect of Muncie that contributes to litter is the university. According to the Keep America Beautiful’s 2009 Littering Behavior in America research, the people more likely to litter are young people below the age of 35. The most likely age group to litter, more than any other group, are those aged 19 and younger. Also, adults aged 21 to 35 are twice as likely to litter than those aged 35 to 49 and three times as likely to litter than those ages 50 and older.

Litter has a significant impact on local economies. According to Keep America Beautiful, it costs America greater than $11.5 billion a year to clean up litter, with $9.1 billion being paid by businesses.

Jason Donati, the stormwater/recycling educator for Muncie Sanitary District, said that litter is effecting the community and the environment in Muncie.

“Often times it’s aesthetics, but we do have some people littering by illegal dumping of chemicals and materials that can cause direct harm to the environment and local water ways,” Donati said.

Donati, passionate about working with youth and environmental education, helps lead the White River Cleanup, creates and hands out educational information to the public related to recycling and stormwater and goes to classrooms for hands-on education and participates in many different community events doing outreach to the public.

Muncie Sanitation District, according to Donati, has been making an effort to recycle and reduce littering since 1998.

“We do spring and fall neighborhood cleanups, partner with a large church once a year to do a neighborhood makeover and cleanup, and offer lots of services to residents for easy disposal of waste,” Donati said. “You can drop off six free tires a year, household hazardous waste, electronics, etcetera, for free at East Central Recycling during regular business hours.”

Donati thinks that police enforcement can help to reduce littering, however, lately they have been involved with more pressing issues. He also thinks that educating youth is “extremely important and will make a difference, and it is what we focus a lot of energy and time on.”

The Muncie Sanitation District has also been working hard to get the word out about their programs.

“We have done countless efforts to encourage recycling through radio and tv commercials, Project 50 prize giveaway, education and outreach at community events, partnerships with neighborhood organizations and local businesses, social media campaigns, etcetera,” Donati said.

According to Keep America Beautiful, as of 2009 overall litter count has gone down 61 percent since 1969 due to successful education, ongoing cleanup efforts and changes in packaging. However, there has been in increase in plastic litter of 165 percent since 1969.

As the United States and Muncie, becomes more environmentally aware, littering has indeed declined. Nevertheless, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done.

If you would like to make a difference in Muncie, you can volunteer through the Muncie Sanitation District. If you are not from Muncie, you can volunteer through Keep America Beautiful.