Column – Litter warriors pick up after the knuckleheads

Published 5:05 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Keep America Beautiful reports that significant progress has been made in reducing litter on U.S. roadsides since 2010. Far too much remains here in Smithfield.

Dozens of volunteers who fanned out along the Route 10 bypass a few Saturdays back can attest. 

Representing the Rotary Club of Smithfield, Rotary’s Interact Club at Smithfield High, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8545 and the Hop and Malt Society (H.A.M.S.), we filled 96 large orange bags with roughly 2,400 pounds of garbage that had been tossed out, or blew out, of passing vehicles along a roughly six-mile stretch.

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That was just in the six months since the groups last cleaned up the area as part of the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Adopt a Highway program.

It should be noted that no one was grousing about the task. Thirty-seven people served their community with a glad heart, and most of them will be back when the semiannual cleanup rolls around again in the fall.

Still, you can’t help but think about better uses of their time in a world with still too much suffering and poverty. Picking up after knuckleheads who toss fast-food sacks, soda bottles and beer cans out the window shouldn’t be a thing in the world’s most developed nation.

At any given time, according to Keep America Beautiful, 50 billion pieces of litter dot roadsides and waterways. That works out to 152 pieces of litter for every American.

There’s two ways to think about that statistic. 

  • Many, if not most of us, never litter, so a small group of people are littering a whole lot.
  • On the other hand, 152 pieces of trash each seems manageable from a cleanup perspective. Most of us could pick up that much in a month without straying far from our beaten paths. Programs like Adopt a Highway make it easy by providing supplies such as grabbers, bags and reflective vests. But much can be accomplished with a less concerted approach: If you see a piece of litter, pick it up.

I wrote in this space last Thanksgiving about an Isle of Wight man (he wishes to remain anonymous because he seeks no public credit) who picks up litter along Main Street and Wharf Hill every week. We cross paths frequently in the morning during my pedestrian commute up Wharf Hill to the Times office. I make it a point to thank him for his efforts.

Here’s hoping the litterbugs clean up their act so his service is no longer needed. 


Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is