Sticky gun wrappers, crunched up cans, broken bottles and smelly paper bags on Virginia's highways - largely taken for granted except by the state, which had to pay to pick them up - have a new, slick status.
Backed by a $1.2 million budget, the state's nine-month-old Division of Litter Control has hired a Richmond advertising agency to turn out polished radio, television and print ads that stress in no uncertain terms that litter is not to be taken lightly.
"It's dangerous," said Robert Slocum, the division's $22,000-a-year commissioner at the Key Bridge Marriott yesterday to introduce the state's ad campaign. "Litter is unhealthy, we're trying to do something about it, though it won't happen overnight."
State Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman who, with Lieutenant Governor Chuck Robb, is sharing the duties for the campaign around the state this week, accompanied Slocum.
Asked to outline his position on litter in Virginia, the attorney general responded. "I'm against it."
The ads, which do not mention that littering is illegal in Virginia, stress as a theme that throwing trash out a car window is antisocial.
In one ad shown to yesterdays gathering, Mom, Pop and their kids are cruising along in their paneled station wagon. Up ahead the mother sees a large, nailstudded piece of wood in the road. She lets out a blood-curdling scream and the car swerves out of control. A screech is heard as the movie frame freezes.
"They were not meant to be sensational," said Slocum afterward. "They were meant to be dramatic."
"That one always gives me goose bumps," said the division's public information officer, Ben Ragsdale.
Unlike last year's antilitter campaign, ("It's Time to Start caring.") Slocum's new arsenal of ads includes a boy stumbling hand-first into a pile of broken glass, a family perishing in a rubbishcaused fire and a large, hungry rat dining in a household garbage can.
The division's budget is made up of funds drawn from a $5 tax (up from last year's $2.50) placed on Virginia business establishments whoose products contribute most to the 60,000 tons of litter the state cleans up every year.
Approximately one-half of the $1.2 million is being spent on grants to cities and counties, Slocum said, which are being encouraged to develop their own trash programs. The rest of the money goes toward the division's administration, salaries for the seven staffers, education and public relations - including the cost of printing up 6,000 bright green bumper stickers ("CAN IT"), 5,000 trash can decals, 3,500 posters, brochures, booklets, buttons and ballpoints.
"This is the biggest breakthrough in the state of Virginia in the past 25 years," said Paul Sanders, founder of Keep Virginia Beautiful, Inc., a volunteer group. He was passing out little white butttons which read, "Nobody Loves a Litterbug."
More than 70,000 injuries will be caused this year in Virginia by litter, according to Slocum, although only about 600 people were arrested last year for the offense. Fines range from $15 to $1,000, and though it is possible, Slocum said, nobody has ever gone to jail in Virginia for dropping pop-tops out of car windows.