Time to crack down on trash

Published 11:25 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2011

As the weather improves and farmers around the city begin moving their equipment out of barns and sheds and getting ready to prepare their farms for cultivation, they’re likely to find themselves first devoting a portion of their time to harvesting an unwanted crop from their fields — plastic bags and other litter.

Especially for cotton farmers, plastic bags can cause serious problems when they get caught up into the final harvest. If a farmer sees the bag enter his machinery, he must eventually risk an injury removing it by hand. If he misses it, the bag will get through the ginning process, and plastic particles will get woven into the fabric at the textile mill, experts say. Those particles are all too obvious when the fabric is dyed, because they won’t take the dye, and the fabric is ruined.

Much has been made of the danger to wildlife that plastic bags present. The same can be true for livestock. And the damage to an area’s appearance is quite literally obvious to the eye when plastic bags litter the landscape.

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So why are there so many of these bags in ditches and hanging from the branches of trees along the sides of the city’s roads? Why do they dot the fields that now await the touch of farm equipment? Why are they so ubiquitous that they rival the state flower for ease of discovery?

Some of the problem surely comes along with hosting the regional landfill, as trucks that deliver garbage there often shed the feather-light plastic bags they’re hauling in the wind caused by their travel along the road.

But lazy, careless and thoughtless people must bear the overwhelming responsibility for the situation. Plastic shopping bags are hardly the only litter that finds its way onto our landscape, and much of the other garbage that never makes it to the landfill or recycling facility is far too heavy to have blown from the back of a truck.

Littering in Suffolk can be punished as a Class I misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a $2,500 fine. It would be a wonderful improvement for the city if enforcement of that law could be improved. A concerted effort by the city to do so would result in widespread media attention, which would be likely to help deter potential litterbugs from tossing their garbage when they’re driving along Suffolk’s roads.