TERRE HAUTE —
Talking trash in the neighborhood can get down and dirty.
Just check out the number of “witches britches” and “urban tumbleweeds” – commonly known as plastic shopping bags – that accumulate in alleys, ditches and scatter across fields near retail districts.
The main thoroughfares of Terre Haute are often well-maintained both by city employees and local citizens who take pride in their community.
But as Mayor Duke Bennett pointed out during an Earth Day discussion on litter, some of the city’s alleys and off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods have eyesores of paper trash, plastic soda bottles and smelly garbage piled up along fences, in vacant lots and around residences.
“We need to get back to teaching kids about not throwing trash on the ground and being good stewards of the environment,” Bennett told a small but interested audience Tuesday at the Vigo County Public Library.
“We’ve got to get the Average Joes to just go out and pick up the trash from in front of their homes. People walk by stuff all the time. If people just picked up a little bit all the time, it would help.”
Litter is an ongoing concern for the city, Bennett said, as are other environmental issues such as discarded cigarette butts and dog feces overlooked by pet walkers.
It is not uncommon to see people throwing fast food bags, wrappers and cups out of vehicle windows — which is against the law. Laurie Tharp, supervisor of the city’s Code Enforcement office, said she has witnessed and cited people for such littering — from tossed drink cups and sandwich bags to cigarette butts.
“We try to motivate people to take pride in their property,” Tharp said. “But a lot of people rent, so they have the attitude that if they rent, the trash is not their problem.”
The problem exists not just with rental properties, however. Some businesses are also litter offenders, Tharp said, especially when they overfill dumpsters or stack boxes and other debris behind their buildings. The wind and scavaging animals scatter the garbage, and it doesn’t get picked up. It is not the job of the garbage hauler to pick up the trash that does not make it into a trash collection bin, she said, and too often, the garbage remains on the ground.
Tharp and Bennett agreed the city has too many “frequent fliers” when it comes to litter and trash accumulation. Some people and properties are regular offenders, Tharp said, and it often takes a citation with an appearance before a judge before the trash will be cleaned up.
“We have a lot of adults who are growing up in this environment,” she said of the trash hoarders. “Their houses are just as filthy on the inside as they are on the outside.”
But the city does offer help for those who cannot get out and clean up their property. Tharp said that her office does try to connect people with assistance to get their weeds and grass mowed, and to get litter, junk and tree brush cleaned up off their property.
“People think we make money on these tickets, but we don’t,” Bennett said of the citations written. “We’d rather clean up properties than write tickets that people won’t pay.”
Bennett said the city welcomes ideas from people on how to improve the local environment. Anyone wanting to report a problem can call the city’s 311 contact center to leave a non-emergency service request, such as litter, graffiti or neglected animals.
Coming up on May 10 is the city’s biannual Keep Tere Haute Beautiful cleanup day.
Environmental activist Jane Santucci of TREES Inc. said the public is encouraged to sign up at www.keepterrehautebeautiful.org for the cleanup effort.
Meanwhile, the Vigo County Public Library also hosted an environmental stewardship program on Tuesday afternoon for children in honor of Earth Day. Several tables with earth-friendly projects were set up outside the library where volunteers and students from Indiana State University shared information with the children.
Steve Flowers, community outreach coordinator for the mayor’s office, said that getting area youths involved in living well and improving the quality of life is a good step for the community.
Ryan Akers, 6, and his 4-year-old sister, Ava, knew exactly what to do when they encountered discarded food wrappers and plastic bottle parts in a container full of dirt. They dug out the trash with a small scooper to place it in recycling bins.
“We recycle,” said their mother Tami Akers.
She said that the school Ryan attends — VanDuyn Elementary near Clinton — has a recycling project to collect plastic lids from jugs and bottles. Those lids will be sent off to a business that will melt them and mold them into a plastic bench that the school can use.
Brothers Andy Jordan, 7, and Samuel Jordan, 9, also enjoyed making paper out of recycled material, while their mother Anndea Jordan watched.
“Cool,” Samuel said when he received his dried paper project containing seeds, which can be planted in the earth.
Samuel said he learned about Earth Day from school, and he knows what stewardship of the environment is about.
“You pick up trash,” he stated.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.