Delegate James Edmunds met with Halifax County officials at Edmunds Park Tuesday afternoon and asked them to join him in an anti-littering campaign to keep their community clean. The gathering was a follow-up to recently passed Virginia legislation that Edmunds introduced.
Edmunds, who represents Virginia’s 60th district, authored House Bill 1801 increasing the minimum fine for dumping or disposing of litter on public or private property from $250 to $500.
The bill also increases the mandatory minimum period of community service in lieu of jail time for littering from 10 hours to 40 hours. Gov. Ralph Northam signed HB 1801 into law, effective July 1.
“Littering is a systematic problem. I hope this event will create a buzz of not just picking up trash…we’ve got to get people to stop putting it down. That will be the long-term solution,” Edmunds told the crowd gathered at Edmunds Park. “My bill was not intended to create a bunch of criminals for throwing trash out but to bring awareness and a buzz that Virginia is not for littering…I think it almost needs to be a localized approach. We want to keep Halifax County clean, and then the other counties will do the same thing.”
Tracy Q. Martin, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Halifax County, proposed the idea of putting up signs bearing the slogan “Keep Halifax Green” in Virginia Department of Transportation right-of-ways and/ or county residents’ private yards to deter people from littering. Edmunds agreed that signage is an important component of awareness.
Kenneth Martin, residency administrator for the Halifax Residency for VDOT, told Edmunds VDOT would be happy to work with him to create signage for the anti-littering campaign.
He shared with the group that VDOT had conducted research, which revealed that half of all litter along roadways comes from motorists throwing trash out of vehicles while traveling along those roadways. He said 25% of litter along roadways comes from pedestrians walking up and down the roadways, and the other 25% comes from unsecured loads/ debris from vehicles.
“That means 75% of all litter you see out there, somebody intentionally decided ‘I’m going to throw this down,’” Martin said.
He also shared with the group that Virginia spends approximately $3.5 million each year on contracts for work crews to pick up trash along the highways. He said the expenditure bothers him because it has no lasting value and is “a total waste of tax dollars,” in his opinion, and the only solution to the problem is to deter people from littering in the first place.
Halifax Mayor Dexter Gilliam pointed out that visitors to the community — potential residents and businesses alike — would be deterred from relocating to the area if it appears unkempt. He likened picking up trash in the community to attract visitors to the area to cleaning up one’s house before the church minister comes over for Sunday dinner.
“We’ve got to help ourselves,” Gilliam said.
Before going their separate ways, everyone at the gathering at Edmunds Park grabbed an orange trash bag, which Edmunds tasked them with filling up with roadside trash as they join him in his efforts to keep Halifax County clean.
Denise Barksdale, assistant Halifax town manager, encouraged everyone to participate in an upcoming Community Clean-Up Day, scheduled for April 17. The Halifax County Improvement Council and the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce band together every April for the community-wide clean-up effort.
“It’s a great way to support James Edmunds and the Halifax County Improvement Council’s efforts,” Barksdale commented. “Orange trash bags are available at multiple locations throughout the county.”
Several members of the Halifax County Improvement Council attended Tuesday’s anti-littering kickoff campaign at Edmunds Park. Edmunds assured the group that he is not trying to overstep the group’s efforts already in place to clean up Halifax County but rather to add to those efforts and recruit more community members for the cause.