Trashed: South Carolina ranked dirtiest state

  • Monday, July 7, 2014

Litter comes in every shape and size from a cigarette butt to a mattress like this one that was discarded in front of a church in Kingstree. Despite the efforts of city and county governments, community volunteers, and industry, people remain the main contributors of discarded trash. A trash-filled boat sits abandoned just off a Williamsburg County rural highway. Scenes like this contribute to the recent designation given to South Carolina as being the dirtiest state in the nation. Photos by Michaele Duke


Litter is an eyesore and it's more prevalent in South Carolina than any other state, according to a recent study. The unfortunate distinction is published in the 2014 American State Little Scorecard by Steve Spacek a government consultant and creator of the scorecard.
The American Society presented the scorecard for public administration. The first scorecard was published in 2008 and is published every three years. Indicators used to determine the rankings include a state's litter taxation, recycling rules/legislation, and per person overall state environmental expenditure. Four of the most “dirtiest” states are located in the south. Washington State ranks as the top cleanest state followed by California, Connecticut, Florida and Maine.

Despite Spacek's findings South Carolinians are very
proactive in their recycling activities. “Last year, South Carolina recycled almost 600 pounds per person,” said Catherine Templeton, director of SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) in a press release. “It is an extraordinary number and is only growing thanks to the grassroots dedication of our local governments in partnership with DHEC. As a result, local governments saved more than $53 million in disposal costs last year alone and have earned more than $67 million in the last four years.”
A report compiled by Dr. Frank Hefner shows total economic impact of recycling activities in the state grew nearly five percent annually to double its impact in eight years, while recycling's benefit to jobs across South Carolina grew to 54,121 jobs impacted - a 44 percent increase since 2006.

South Carolina is host to many organizations that provide solutions and support. One organization is PalmettoPride. Since 2001, PalmettoPride programs have helped decrease litter by 62 percent. The non-profit, 501(c)3 organization awards over 100 grants to recipients each year. PalmettoPride is a legislative initiative founded by Senator David Thomas and issued through executive order in 1999. The Trio Community Action Organization and Keep Williamsburg Beautiful were part of this year's recipients. In addition, PalmettoPride Adopt-A-Highway program has helped communities reduce litter by 59 percent over the past 10 years.
On the local level, Williamsburg County government provides 20 recycling centers. Most accept aluminum, cardboard, metal and scrap, steel and tires. In 2012, Williamsburg County Council established a Recycling Advisory Board. The group was tasked to develop recycling strategies that will generate revenue. To date, additional plastic recycling bins have been added to various sites.

Industry has taken huge steps in tackling its waste stream. According to the South Carolina Department of Commerce the state is home to over 500 recycling companies including collectors, processors, recycled product manufacturers and equipment makers.  A 2014 recycling industry economic impact study by Dr. Frank Hefner of the College of Charleston Department of Economics shows that the recycling industry has doubled in size - to $13 billion in 2014 from $6.5 billion in 2006. In Williamsburg County, Palmetto Synthetics is a recycling champion. The company produces specialty fibers from recycled materials. In addition, Palmetto Synthetics is designated as a Zero Waste company, which means it recycles waste that is produced on site.
There are also local groups and organizations that are tenacious when it comes to obliterating the unsightly mess. The HomeTown Chamber is very active in raising awareness of the benefits of reuse and recycle efforts and offers citizens the tools to make the job of cleaning up easier. And not a week goes by that motorists witness the countless volunteers combing the highways in their respective communities with bags and trash grabbers in hand.

In spite of the collective efforts, litter, which is delivered mostly by the hands of its citizens, continues to stain the landscape, cause harm to the environment and have a negative affect on property values. Surveys suggest that over 80 percent of people who litter do so intentionally. Penalizing those who litter is one deterrent. In South Carolina, the penalty for littering is a misdemeanor. Less than 15 pounds or 27 cubic feet carries a fine of $200 or up to 30 days imprisonment for first or second conviction. Subsequent convictions: fine of $500 or up to 30 days imprisonment. The court may also impose eight hours of litter cleanup for first conviction, 16 hours for second conviction, and 24 hours for subsequent convictions.

However, in the midst of this progress landfills continue to grow. According to the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), Office of Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling, nearly 248,000 tons of easily recyclable materials such as cardboard, aluminum cans, and plastic and glass bottles was sent to the landfill. Using the state's average $36 per ton tipping fee, it is estimated more than $12.5 million was spent to dispose of the material. And based on the average revenue received per ton by local governments, approximately $47 million in potential revenue from the sale of those items is lost. 

Recycling also works in that it has created 15,000 jobs, created $1.5 billion in annual personal income and produces $69 million in annual tax revenue.
Without abundant state and local government resources to do the job, the focus is on the local level through education, awareness and fostering personal responsibility. In the meantime, commending the champions who keep our communities clean cannot be taken for granted.  
For technical and recycling assistance contact DHEC at 1-800-768-7348 or visit www.scdhec.gov/recycle. For information about PalmettoPride and Adopt-A-Highway call toll-free (877) 725-7733 or visit www.palmettopride.org.

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