Mandatory service? Don't blame the commission


Judging from the reaction, this week, many of you seem to be really fascinated with the current discussions at the Walker County Commission. It always seems to be easy sport in this county to attack the commission. But I am going to talk about one of their problems that was not their doing, and you probably won't like this column by the time you finish, because of who I will blame. 

Do you know who I blame on the littering, the illegal dumping and the mandatory solid waste proposal? 

Look in the mirror. Take a long look. I dare you.

I grew up in the late 1960s and 1970s when littering and environmental problems began to get serious consideration. A Disney children's record even came out at the time to warn against littering, and we had Keep America Beautiful, with the tear coming down the Native American's eye in the commercial. We had the owl saying, "Give a hoot and don't pollute." Eventually, Alabama PALS and Adopt-a-Mile were formed statewide, as well as some of the local programs, and groups would go out and keep their area picked up. 

And then it just seem to die away. It was the flavor issue of the month, and we moved on to other things. And the litter piled up again. 

Worse, as I grew into maturity as a reporter, I found littering was not just creating an ugly roadside, it was a distraction to industry looking at a new town and created a bad mark. Moreover, local city and county governments have trouble mowing their rights-of-ways because of garbage on the highway, as it is not all simple paper or foam cups. 

In fact, we send people out to clean this stuff up, including teenagers and the elderly, and we don't just have to worry about traffic coming behind them on heavy traffic roads, but we now have to worry about drug needles and all that mess resulting from drug use. We put people and equipment in danger because we throw stuff out, leaving volunteers vulnerable to all sorts of mishaps. 

I did a quick search on the Internet: From 2005: "SAN LEANDRO (Calif.) — A worker for an Adopt-A-Highway program was killed Thursday afternoon when a van veered off Interstate 880 and struck him. The man, whose name has not been released, was picking up litter on the shoulder of northbound 880 when a red Dodge Caravan turned off the righthand lane ..." From this month in England: "An animal welfare charity received more than 5,000 calls last year about animals who were hurt by rubbish. According to RSPCA Cymru, it received 278 calls from Wales throughout 2017 about animals 'impacted by litter and discarded objects' – incidences it says 'entirely avoidable.. Total calls across England and Wales were 5,081."

And, let's face it — some of it is not litter. Of 17,000 potential county solid waste customers, we only have 7,000 customers. The majority of the county residents seem content to put their garbage in a truck and take it somewhere. If that somewhere was a dumpster at all times, it would be great, but that is not happening. Some of those areas where people pick up litter are where illegal dumping goes on, as it ends on roadsides. This means the trash eventually decomposes and spreads into the ground and our drinking water, an issue I learned of while dealing with the old Chem Waste landfill in Emelle and other solid waste landfills that came up over the years. 

And we had to come up with them, not just to new regulations but because we are running out of space in our old landfills. Why do you think New York and New Jersey is sending their sludge down here? Incredible amounts of garbage and sewage are even being dumped in the oceans as we speak. We are in need to better organize our solid waste efforts. You can argue about greenhouse gases and global warming all you like, but the needs for solid waste disposal are a clear and present danger. 

That is why I am completely amazed we are even having a discussion about mandatory garbage service. With illegal dumping causing such hazards to the public health, I would consider it a basic human preservation element to have mandatory garbage service, much as you have sewer service or wash your hands in the bathroom. The commission didn't cause this problem; people out there who don't care about others and are more concerned about saving a dollar caused this for the rest of us. "I'm not doing it" is not an excuse with the volume of environmental mess now facing society as a whole. 

And while money is brought up, it is understood that elderly people on fixed income are usually exempt from paying, and low income people get major breaks. That is always done in other counties and would be done here, and the commission obviously understands that. And the revenue would stay with solid waste, with the most adventurous use possibly being able to pay for pick up of the litter on the road. It can't be used for roads and other General Fund items because it just can't. It is in an entirely different budget to begin with.

(I am also tired of "I don't believe anything they say" to EVERY public statement. Some people here could be approached by Jesus Christ and zapped with lightning, and they still wouldn't believe. Sometimes your public officials do tell you the truth that there is a problem, whether you like it or not. But I am just the fake news media, so what do I know?) 

I understand some of you don't throw litter out of the car; I don't. And I'm proud I have the garbage picked up at the apartment, with a big dumpster within short walking distance. But some people have spoiled it for others, not just in Walker County but across the nation and the world. We don't have options to ignore it. And this commission, which already has financial problems to deal with — and, yes, they really, really, REALLY do have some that can't just be solved with cuts — is having to look at this issue as it harms not only the looks of the area, but it hurts industrial and commercial recruitment, residential recruitment, the public safety of those picking up litter (including teenagers and the elderly), the passing automobiles and government mowing equipment that might hit certain trash items (sharp objects that can puncture tires, etc) and the environment of the land and water where trash can break down into dangerous spill off. 

In short, we have a public health nuisance that we have ignored for years on the cheap that is easy to organize and solve, likely on a cost-effective manner that I think will pay for itself when the estimates come in. Frankly, when it is a public health nuisance, it really shouldn't even matter about the money; it should just be done.

I look at these young teenagers who are concerned about certain issues. Can we blame them for being angry? Amid all the other problems we are dumping on them, we are literally dumping our litter and trash, polluting the earth we are leaving them. It seems a shame we are doing this to them, out of our own petty convenience and greed. 

So I hope the commission does adopt mandatory service. I think they should adopt it as soon as organizationally possible. And I won't feel sorry for anyone or anything when they do, as it is a public health need.

And when someone wants to point fingers when it is adopted, I won't point it at the commission. I will draw up the old chestnut Shakespeare quote I have turned to often, as Edward R. Murrow did with Joseph McCarthy: "And whose fault is that? Not really his .... Cassius was right. 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.'"