LUMBERTON — More than 45 people armed with vests, bright orange garbage bags and trash grabbers hit the highway Wednesday to make Robeson County more attractive.
The volunteers gathered at 8:30 a.m. at the former Department of Social Services building’s parking lot, on N.C. 711 to participate in the Robeson County Clean and Green’s annual Community Cleanup event. They scattered and picked up trash from alongside N.C. 711, near the intersection with N.C. 72, until about 10:30 a.m.
Landfill personnel registered volunteers and handed out proper safety gear and tools to aid participants with the annual cleanup. Snacks and cold drinks were provided — and were welcome as temperatures began their climb toward triple-digits.
“It was a hot one out there today — dangerous. We had to stay hydrated, that is always important,” said Raymond Cummings, committee director and county Board of Commissioners chairman. “We want to encourage our residents to help with litter clean up but be safe, especially during the summer months — drink lots of fluids.”
N.C. 711 was chosen for the annual litter pickup because of its high visibility and heavy volume of traffic, Cummings said.
Volunteers filled more than two dozen trash bags with roadside garbage picked up along a two-mile stretch of N.C. 711 within a two-hour period. Department of Transportation personnel were to collect the bags Wednesday night.
Ashley Grier, who works for county government, jumped at the chance to give back to the community.
“I wanted to help the community get rid of some roadside litter,” Grier said. “It makes you more aware. I feel that I will be more conscientious and will also think about what I am throwing away, and where I dispose of it.”
Annette Mitchell walked alongside Myra White during the cleanup event. Mitchell and White both work for the Robeson County Department of Social Services, and both were disappointed by one reoccurring piece of trash.
“The cigarette butts is what surprised me. There were a million cigarette butts it seemed,” Mitchell said.
“Yes, it looks like someone took ashtrays filled with cigarette butts and dumped them on the side of the road,” White said. “And the glass, that too, was rampant.”
Volunteers and Officer A.G. Miller, of the Robeson County Environmental Control Office, stressed the importance of a litter-free environment.
“It don’t look good to people stopping in. We want our county to become attractive to potential businesses and people who might want to come here.” Miller said. “And littering is a 250-dollar ticket. It don’t matter if it is a cigarette butt or a dresser.
“There are more than 20 convenient sites spread out around the county and people won’t take it there. It is free of charge to dump stuff there. There is no excuse.”
He has been in this line of work for 35 years, and still disappointed by what he sees, Miller said.
“People throw anything and everything out on the side of the road,” Miller said. “A mattress, couches, bags of trash, basically anything.”
Identifying litterbugs is an art, Miller said.
“We can’t give all our secrets, but let’s just say litterers are not hard to find,” he said. “There are three of us (enforcement officers). We’ve managed to write a total of about 70 tickets this year. I’ve written 35 tickets alone.”
Cummings saw positives coming out of Wednesday’s event.
“Anytime volunteers get together to donate their time to clean up the community it’s a win,” Cummings said. “Maybe the visibility will encourage more people to participate. It might bring a little curiosity, start a dialogue and encourage them to clean up.”
The annual event appears to be working, he said. The number of tons of litter collected has almost doubled since the event began in 2013. From April 1, 2013, to March 31, 2014, 112.88 tons of roadside trash was collected through the Clean and Green initiative. In 2018, 220.42 tons of roadway garbage were collected.
“We hope to stay on trend and keep doubling those numbers,” Cummings said. “The higher number means more people are getting involved. We are picking up more trash. That is our goal.”
Reach Annick Joseph by calling 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected] or Facebook Annick MultiMedia Journalist.