Litter costly problem for Oklahoma taxpayers

Saturday, December 25th 2004, 4:31 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahomans spend $4 million a year to remove trash from alongside state highways, money transportation officials say could be better spent repairing the state's crumbling roads and bridges.

Over the last four fiscal years, almost $14 million in tax dollars has been spent on litter control, the state Department of Transportation said. Taxpayers hire prisoners and other cleaning crews who walk the roads and gather up the mess.

Oklahomans paid inmates $2.62 an hour this year to gather trash. State officials also contracted with groups of handicapped individuals for $11.50 an hour.

Some groups volunteer their time to pick up litter, but the state must still pay for plastic bags and removal of the bags from the side of the road.

``It's still pretty expensive, even with the volunteers,'' said Gail Ederer of Keep Oklahoma Beautiful.

Ederer said one of the program's goals is to revive a sense of pride in Oklahoma.

``Clean and Beautiful Schools,'' a community-based school grounds project that includes a litter plan, will spread from the metro area across the state next year.

The program is sponsored by OGE Energy Corp., Keep Oklahoma Beautiful and the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. The antilitter plan is organized and carried out by students.

``What I like to say, what we like to say at Keep Oklahoma Beautiful is 'pretty clean places stay pretty clean,''' Ederer said. ``It's very basic. Once you get something cleaned up, you take pride in it and you'll more easily keep it that way.''

Ederer said installing litter bags in vehicles could help control the problem.

``Have more convenient placement of trash cans,'' Ederer said. ``We can have trash containers conveniently located, but if they don't get emptied, they will spill over and you have a problem.''

Those who want to report litter can call (888) 5- LITTER to report trash being thrown from a car or something being illegally dumped. Since January 2001, the litter hotline has received almost 10,000 calls, with nearly 1,800 calls this year.

Joanne Orr of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Beautification Office said that if the caller can provide a license number, the driver will get a letter advising litter was seen falling from his vehicle.

About 61 percent of the calls are to report tobacco-related items being thrown from cars. Other concerns are paper and fast food wrappers and cups, according to a Department of Transportation report.