Campbell County launched a program this week to end littering, improve recycling and beautify the community.
With a focus on long-term education and a community call to action, Sherry Harding, director of public and employee relations with the county, presented the plan to the Campbell County Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday work session.
“It’s not going to happen overnight; it’s going to be for years to come,” Harding said.
The program, dubbed “Keep Campbell County Beautiful” is a direct response to repeated concerns about the county’s litter. With refuse and waste clogging the shoulders of major roadways and backroads in the county, litter has been the subject of several public comments by residents this budget season and long has been a concern of the board.
In tandem with the program is a campaign called “Give Us Five Campbell,” which encourages residents to clean up just five square feet of litter for five minutes across five days, hoping to target areas near their homes or places they frequent.
The plan also includes a push to create local “green teams,” volunteers who may partner with the public works department by adopting stretches of roadway to dispose of litter, trash and debris.
Harding said a green team of five county employees already has adopted a portion of Village Highway running through the heart of Rustburg. This week, she said, recruitment of citizen-led green teams will begin, with a goal of targeting corridors the Virginia Department of Transportation and public works staff have identified as high litter areas.
The county will push the campaigns through social media, its website, video and in-person social engagement at trash transfer sites — targeting education efforts and speaking with residents one-on-one.
“I know litter is a tough subject, but we are very excited,” Harding said, “because it gives us an opportunity to get out and engage the public a little bit, and hopefully it will make a difference.”
Tuesday evening, supervisors also heard from Sheriff Whit Clark; Clif Tweedy, deputy county administrator and director of public works; and Robert Brown, VDOT residency administrator.
Tweedy and a team from public works spearheaded litter pickup efforts during the past month, beginning at the intersection of Davis Farm Fresh Produce and English Tavern Road on U.S. 29, and then deploying four teams along other major corridors.
Tweedy said in the span of that month, which represented about six days focused on litter pickup, the teams collected 22 large trash bags, more than a dozen truckloads of bulk items and 27 pounds of metal.
The efforts by public works staff will continue as resources allow, Tweedy said, but may slow somewhat as staff will dedicate more time in the spring to ballfield preparation, park maintenance and grass mowing.
He said there also will be an effort this summer to staff more manned transfer sites in the county, encouraging responsible use of the sites and to prevent illegal dumping.
VDOT handles litter as a part of its ordinary maintenance operations, but Brown said some efforts have been slowed by COVID-19, with the usual inmate labor from the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority on pause because of the pandemic.
In the meantime, Brown said VDOT hired a contractor to cover pickup in the county, but the added expense means it must be used sparingly.
“The litter that you all have been talking about, it’s horrible, it’s terrible, it’s unsightly, and quite frankly, I’m not going to say I get tired of people telling me about it, but I get tired of looking at it,” Brown said. “It doesn’t do this county, or any county, justice.”
Brown said as the county develops programs to address the issue, VDOT is happy to partner with them in the future — much like it does with Amherst County’s recently formed Coalition for a Cleaner County.
Clark spoke about litter enforcement in the county. According to Virginia code, it is unlawful to dump or dispose of trash on public property, including a public highway, right-of-way or property adjacent to these. Anyone convicted of violating the code could be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine from $250 to $2,500.
Despite litter being a pervasive issue in the county — something Rustburg District Supervisor Jon Hardie called a “constant topic” over the years — Clark said the department has received only 76 calls for service regarding litter in the past five years.
“We just don’t see it,” he said. Though officers know littering is happening, it’s rare for one to encounter someone in the act of littering while on patrol.
The department does have an officer dedicated to nuisance abatement who checks for code violations and can visit properties where piled trash and debris have been reported. Clark said he recently refreshed all of his deputies on the litter code to ensure full enforcement.
While he said officers will enforce it when they see it, education is “key.”
“I think educating the citizens of the county is huge,” Clark said, “and letting them know that this an issue ... we need to be stand-up citizens for our county and we all need to take personal responsibility for this issue.”
Harding reiterated it was crucial for the community to take littering seriously, calling it a “shared responsibility.” While other efforts have been led in Campbell County in the past, these initiatives are a return to internal efforts to address litter issues.