Rimes Picayune Article - May 23,2010
Throwing that candy wrapper on the ground may be costing Louisiana taxpayers more than some think.
'It seems like something small but when you see litter, it indicates that no one cares about that spot. It leads to other kinds of decline in a neighborhood,' said Leigh Harris, executive director of Keep Louisiana Beautiful. 'It's that first place that can lead to bigger problems in a community.' According to a study conducted by Keep Louisiana Beautiful, a nonprofit organization focused on litter in the state, Louisiana is spending $40 million a year to clean up litter.
Through surveys of parish, municipal and U.S. Department of Transportation officials, researchers found that cleanup cost the state an estimated $40 million in 2009.
Leigh Harris, executive director of Keep Louisiana Beautiful, said she thinks this is the first study of its kind in Louisiana. Harris said Keep Louisiana Beautiful was motivated to conduct the study after hearing for a long time that costs were around $15 million a year.
"Everyone throws around this number of $15 million, but no one really knew where it came from," Harris said. "I knew it was more than that."
Applied Technology Research of Baton Rouge conducted the study for Keep Louisiana Beautiful.
The researchers asked public officials to provide estimated costs of litter and disposal collection, enforcement, adjudication, and anti-litter public information and education.
Although the study measures only the direct economic impact of litter, it acknowledges that there are indirect consequences like real estate devaluation, loss of new industry and loss of tourism. It also adversely affects the environment and health. As a result, Harris said, the cost of litter is probably far higher than $40 million.
Lawrence "Buster" McKenzie, president of Applied Technology Research, was out of the country and unavailable for an interview.
Harris said she hopes that the results of the study will encourage people to speak about the impact of littering. She noted that $40 million may not seem like a lot compared to other costs, but it could be easily prevented.
"This is a cost that is totally avoidable, $40 million that taxpayers would not have to pay," Harris said. "That's money that could be put to something that's more progressive and positive."
Harris said the study did not look at differences in parish litter amounts because the purpose was not to highlight which ones were doing better or worse.
"It's really not to compare. It's really more a positive note. We're all in it," she said.
Harris said she hopes the study will result in greater awareness of littering.
"Our purpose is to support communities that are trying to make themselves cleaner," Harris said. "My hope is that this (study) will get more communities involved with Keep Louisiana Beautiful."
She added that litter does not seem like an issue at first, but it reveals the state of an area.
"It seems like something small but when you see litter, it indicates that no one cares about that spot. It leads to other kinds of decline in a neighborhood," Harris said. "It's that first place that can lead to bigger problems in a community."
Masako Hirsch can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3330.