Spring litter: Here today, washed away tomorrow?
News reports tell us that the Maine State Legislature recently voted to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill designating an annual litter cleanup day.
The law reads: “The first Saturday in May is designated Maine Community Litter Cleanup Day, and the Governor shall annually issue a proclamation inviting and urging the citizens of the State to observe this day through appropriate activities such as removing litter from roads.” The fiscal note attached to this legislation states: “Any additional costs to the Executive Department are expected to be minor and can be absorbed utilizing existing budgeted resources.”
LePage wrote in his veto letter that the bill wasn’t practical or necessary, and that litter “is known to be washed away” with the spring thaw. We are unsure by whom this is known, so let’s delve deeper to see if those who know this are accurately informed.
The Keep Pemaquid Peninsula Beautiful Steering Committee has conducted litter surveys each spring for the past four years in the six towns comprising Pemaquid Peninsula: Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Nobleboro, South Bristol, and part of Waldoboro. In our experience of directly counting thousands of individual pieces of litter along roadsides while driving slowly, most litter does not wash away in the spring. Rather, it appears in the spring from underneath the snowbanks, where it has been trapped since the previous year. With snowmelt and spring rains, some of the small bits — for example, cigarette butts and small pieces of paper and plastic — are carried by water flowing in roadside ditches to larger water bodies and storm drains. Moving water may indeed wash away some smaller pieces of litter from one place, but it just deposits them somewhere else, likely in a river, pond, lake, bay, or the ocean. There is no “away.” Litter ends up somewhere and causes problems for someone — highway departments, public works employees, and fish and wildlife personnel, to name a few. The larger pieces, such as cans, bottles, papers, cups, boxes, and bags, are picked up by state and local road crews and by helpful, hard-working citizens and taken to a transfer station, where it is either recycled or trucked to a landfill or a trash-to-electricity facility.
Regarding the governor’s opinion that a Maine Community Litter Day is not practical, perhaps he doesn’t realize that communities throughout Maine, including Bremen, Bristol, and Damariscotta have held successful litter cleanup days for many years, most recently in April.
As for not being necessary, our annual survey shows that the amount of litter on the Pemaquid Peninsula has not gone down appreciably over the past four years.
Thank you, Gov. LePage, for bringing this issue into the open.
Pemaquid Watershed Association was established in 1966 and is a volunteer-based, membership-supported nonprofit organization whose mission is to conserve the natural resources of the Pemaquid Peninsula region through land and water stewardship and education. PWA’s “Keep Pemaquid Peninsula Beautiful” initiative will bolster PWA’s work to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Pemaquid Peninsula by promoting a clean, litter-free environment. For more information, go to pemaquidwatershed.org.