LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Springtime showcases the beauty Arkansas has to offer. But many people think our own laziness keeps the state from looking like the wonder it is.
“We are in an oasis of natural beauty,” said Kane Webb, Director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, “and if you ruin that with litter or trash, you’re the antithesis of putting out a welcome mat. You’re saying we don’t want you here, you’re not welcome. We don’t even care enough about our state to pick up our trash.”
Webb and other state officials celebrated the start of the annual Great American Cleanup on Monday with a warning about the costs of litter.
Scott Bennett, Director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, said his agency spent approximately $4.6 million last year to remove litter from the sides of highways.
“That’s a huge job,” he stated. “That’s money that could be spent in other areas, trying to keep our highways safe and efficient.”
Additionally, Bennett said that 6,000 people volunteered by adopting sections of highway covering 1,500 miles. Though that covers less that 10 percent of the state’s highway system, Bennett said they collected 8,000 bags of litter.
Robert Phelps, chair of the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission, said state and local agencies combined to spend $8 million for litter cleanup efforts.
“Littering doesn’t gain anyone anything. It only costs,” he said. “It’s an expense Arkansas can’t afford.”
Jhayla Jackson said Monday that she often notices trash along the side of the road when she is out with her family.
“But I don’t think they really pick it up,” she mentioned. “Because every time somebody throws something on the freeway, or something like that, no one picks it up, cause it’s probably dangerous, or something.”
Litter also affects the way tourists feel when they visit Arkansas. Webb stated that 27 million people traveled here last year, and they spent almost $8 billion. Tourism led to 113,000 jobs, which is nearly 10 percent of the labor force in Arkansas, and generated nearly $500 million in state and local taxes. Webb claimed litter can affect a person’s willingness to return to the state, and may discourage business in some areas.
Litter also angered Kevin Wise, who was one of several people fishing in the pond at McArthur Park Monday afternoon.
“It just drives me crazy when people leave their paper towels, or whatever,” Wise said. “I have mine in my pocket, just because it bugs me when people just leave their trash sitting around.
“It’s just a beautiful country that we live in. It’s bothersome that people don’t care enough to pick up after themselves.”
Maurice Guest cast his line a few feet away from Wise, but had a different view on the problem.
“Based on what I’ve seen in other cities, and just neighboring places, I think we are good with litter,” he said. “Like, the city looks clean. I’m here at the park now with my daughter, and it’s clean. It’s nice. You’re got some bread, because people feed the ducks, but there’s no litter around at all, so I’m content. I’m happy with the way Little Rock is.”
Monday marked the start of the annual Great American Cleanup, which runs for the next two months. In 2016, Arkansans volunteered 35,000 hours and picked nearly 300,000 of trash.
“To ultimately improve litter prevention, the solution is in the hands of individuals, not governmental agencies,” Phelps said. “People cause litter. People can stop it.”