Wilton Wilkerson, we believe, would be pleased — or at least encouraged while insisting there is more work to be done.
Wilkerson, who earned the moniker Robeson County’s Mr. Clean and Green because of his relentless efforts to shame people into throwing their trash into a garbage can and to pick up behind those who are too dumb and lazy to do so, has watched from his perch in the sky since his death in 2008 and agonized as his beloved county got uglier and uglier because of litterbugs.
But about a year and a half after a local Clean and Green campaign was rebooted with Commissioner Raymond Cummings leading the charge, there is tangible evidence that Robeson County is digging itself out from underneath the garbage pile.
On Tuesday, during a meeting of the campaign’s steering committee, Kristina Cummings, Robeson County’s recycling coordinator and architect of Clean and Green’s projects, shared this hopeful news: From Jan. 1 to July 31 of this year, there were 75.52 tons of trash identified as having been removed from roadsides taken to the county landfill; during the same seven months of 2015, 47.33 tons of identified roadside trash were taken to the landfill.
That is an increase of about 60 percent — and we believe probably exceeds even the most optimistic forecasts of what could be achieved.
Measuring success is tricky: A drive through the countryside of Robeson County might convince a motorist that Robeson County was pristine, but a turn on the wrong road can suggest otherwise. In other words, there are roadsides that have been swept of litter in recent months, and others that are lined with trash.
Getting an accurate measure is difficult, but knowing that 56,000 more pounds of roadside litter were taken to the landfill during the first seven months of this year than last year is an apples-to-apples comparison that has utility.
That has been achieved through a range of efforts, but primarily by getting more groups involved, civic clubs, businesses, schools, churches, etc., and a stepped-up use of inmate labor.
The best route to a cleaner county isn’t by picking up trash, but raising awareness about the problem to prevent it from being tossed in the first place. With that in mind, the steering committee this week agreed to buy space on three billboards promoting the clean-and-green message, produce a 30-second public service announcement that could become part of the driver’s education courses offered locally, and have the clean-and-green message sounded at school and recreational athletic events.
Our roadsides are the front porch to this county, and give a first impression that has staying power, often to our detriment. Littered roadsides send a self-loathing message to industries that bring jobs, and professionals, including doctors and teachers, looking for a new home.
Because the current Clean and Green campaign has traction and is enjoying success, Robeson County is putting on a better face, and that will benefit us all as we head into a more tidy future.