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Litterbugs beware

Litterbugs need to start thinking about their wallets.

Under a new state anti-littering campaign, big fines are in store for anyone caught throwing a fast-food wrapper ($95) or a cigarette ($950) on the ground. The granddaddy of the penalties is $5,000 for dumping garbage anywhere besides a legal landfill.

The state Department of Ecology is getting tough because littering is a perennial, chronic problem. Officials hope stiff financial consequences will have an impact.

The Federal Way Noon Lions Club wishes them luck. Club members cleaned the shoulder of a stretch of Interstate 5 for 10 years in the state’s adopt-a-highway program, but stopped this year because the work became too much.

“There were hypodermic needles and pornographic items, and we don’t like to be exposed to that,” said Don Lockwood, a leader of the former cleanup crew. Sometimes while they were picking up litter, passing motorists threw more at them.

“It seems like it got worse every year,” Lockwood said.

Litter-picking Lions once roamed I-5 from 320th to 272nd streets. The Federal Way Night Lions Club cleaned the west side until quitting a few years ago, and now the Noon Lions have given up on the east side.

“We did a fine job, but it got to the point that we had to wear heavy gloves and be careful what we picked up. And we all got older, too,” Lockwood said.

The Department of Ecology’s multi-year litter-prevention campaign, called “Litter and it will hurt,” is based on the premise that the best way to stop people from littering is to tell them they can be caught and will have to pay for it. Previous campaigns that appealed to a sense of citizenship and environmental stewardship didn’t work, DOE officials conceded.

“The nice-guy approach” of messages about health, safety and quality of life didn’t work with persistent trash tossers, said Cullen Stephenson, who manages DOE’s solid-waste program. “It’s time to tell people who litter that we’re coming after their pocketbooks.”

Despite the state spending $4 million a year on cleaning up litter, only 25 percent to 35 percent of the trash is actually removed. Every year statewide, an estimated 6 million pounds of litter wind up in parks and recreational areas, and 16 million pounds land on roadways. That’s one pound of litter per mile per day, according to DOE. Contributing to the total is 65 tons of cigarette butts, which officials figured out is equal to 260 million butts.

King County has been home for some of the worst roadside littering in the state. In a rating system in which 1 is cleanest and 5.9 is dirtiest, the county rated a 5.1 from the state Department of Transportation in 2000.

That year, the first one in which statistics were compiled by DOE, work crews spent 23,624 hours removing 865,708 pounds of litter in the county. The trash was from 1,127 miles of roadsides and 105 acres of open areas.

Statistics for last year weren’t available.

Television and radio ads and road signs are promoting the state’s anti-litter campaign, including a toll-free hotline (866-LITTER-1) for reporting littering.

The State Patrol, which already stops thousands of people each year for littering, is increasing enforcement of litter laws as part of the campaign.

Officials said a survey will help measure whether litterbugs change their behavior.

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and editor@fedwaymirror.com

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