D.C. Streets? Litter With Love, Not Trash

By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 8, 2007

The District's Department of Public Works has launched an educational campaign aimed at convincing young residents to "show D.C. some love."

The message is relayed in spoken word as a hand-held video camera follows a teenager walking through city streets, recording in black-and-white as he does the right thing.

"Pick it up all the way from Ward 1 to Ward 8," the poet's voice says. "Trash. Pick it up."

The public service announcement is one of four that finished running last month on popular urban radio stations and youth-oriented cable television networks. The target audience, city officials say, is the group believed to be the biggest litter offenders in the District: 6- to 24-year-olds.

"Litter is our number one issue, and we spend a lot of resources to keep the city clean," said Public Works Director William O. Howland Jr. "The best thing is to change behavior, and having an anti-litter campaign seems to be the best way to change behavior."

Of the department's $75 million annual solid waste budget, $25 million to $30 million is spent on picking up street and alley litter. Daytime work includes crews picking up litter with brooms, picks and bags, and small, vacuum-equipped vehicles cleaning streets and alleys. The heaviest concentration of daytime crews work the area of 14th and U streets in Northwest, the H Street corridor in Northeast and the Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue corridor in Southeast, Howland said.

Evening work includes emptying an estimated 6,500 tons of garbage nightly from the city's 4,000 litter cans and sweeping major roads for litter.

"The daytime litter collection is what I really want to reduce. . . . There shouldn't be as much trash on the street as there is in this city," Howland said. "I want people to use the litter cans and then have my people pick them up at night."

He said DPW staff members looked at research conducted by New Jersey officials, who determined that that state's biggest litterers were adolescents and young adults and that using government resources to pick up after them was the most expensive way to attack the problem.

Depending on volunteer groups to conduct litter cleanups was not an adequate or year-round solution. The most cost-efficient method to attack the problem was to try to modify behavior.

Littering fines start at $75, and Howland said that enforcement has been lax. "We could try to fine a bunch of people," he said, "but we think it's more effective to try to educate people and change behavior."

The District is also considering selecting an anti-trash motto along the lines of the decades-old "Don't Mess With Texas" slogan, recognized nationally as one of the most successful pitches for cleaning up trash from state highways. In the District, DPW officials are considering "Not in my D.C." and "Show D.C. Some Love."

Officials said they hope a slogan would instill pride in the nation's capital and "fight the culture of litter."

"Just cleaning up behind people constantly never gets anything resolved," said DPW spokeswoman Nancee Lyons. "We want to . . . develop a community that will help us keep the streets cleaner."

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