October 25, 2012

Editorial: Raise the stakes for litterers


---- — Do you get annoyed at the sight of litter decorating the roadsides and street curbs of our cities and towns in the North Country? Do you become infuriated when you see a driver or passenger roll down the window and launch a piece of trash or a cigarette butt?

Real litter is just about unthinkable to responsible citizens; cigarette butts flying out of car windows are just as maddening, particularly in view of the fact that many people who fling them don’t seem to consider them litter. (Environmental groups insist the kind of plastic of which cigarette filters are made take up to 15 years to biodegrade, so those little cylinders are hardy and very much qualify as litter detrimental to any community.)

In New York state, if you get caught pitching litter from a vehicle, you could be fined up to $250 for the first offense. Of course, few people ever get caught doing it, except by other passers-by who would probably like to take the law into their own hands but either can’t or know better.

That $250 would be a nice deterrent against littering, if it were ever enforced.

California has a better idea: The maximum fine for a first offense in that state is $1,000. Now, that’s what we would call a deterrent.

In an especially beautiful countryside outside Sacramento in Northern California, as in other areas of the state, motorists are greeted by a large black-and-white sign that warns everyone: “$1,000 fine for littering.” What a dramatic reminder to all of how the people of California feel about anyone who would denigrate their picturesque piece of natural tapestry.

It may deter the otherwise careless or thoughtless from following through with their dirty deeds. We won’t claim that litter is a thing of the past there. Far from it, no doubt.

But we assure that, once caught littering and relieved of $1,000, a second offense is highly unlikely.

Is it really worth $1,000 for the pleasure of uncorking a cigarette butt out the window on a ride through Northern California – or anyplace else?

The size of the fine, perhaps out of proportion for the offense, would be an unmistakable signal that lawmakers —and citizens — of the state have strong feelings about the act of sullying their fields, streams, mountains, valleys and roadsides. Those areas are the very lifeblood of the North Country.

Litterers ought to be society’s pariahs and should be dealt with accordingly.

And police agencies should be on the alert for violators. Give those violators a reason to keep their trash in their cars, where it belongs until proper disposal can be arranged.

We have no sympathy for anybody who would compromise the environment we all share. Give the law some teeth, make the consequences severe, and raise the stakes for anybody who would expose everyone to their garbage.