A little over three years ago, Orangeburg County Council toughened litter laws by increasing fines and making it easier to charge people with littering.
As 2021 begins, Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said there are signs it has made a difference.
“In some areas, we have made a difference and in some areas we have not,” he said. “We have installed cameras and are ticketing.”
But Young said litter is a hard thing to eradicate completely.
“The problem is that the county does not pay one person to throw trash on the ground,” Young said. “We pick it up. The citizens have to be a part of the solution. They have to help by not throwing things out.”
Young said when everyone takes it upon themselves to be a part of the solution, the county will also be more effective in reducing the litter problem.
Since the ordinance was passed in late 2017, a total of 1,028 warnings and 700 citations have been issued.
Litter citations went up steadily from 36 in 2017 to 306 in 2019 before going down in 2020 to 123.
Warnings have fluctuated each year with a high of 333 in 2017 to a low of 190 in 2018. Last year, there were 285 warnings.
In 2019 and 2020, citations were broken down into litter and property.
A litter citation is given when someone is caught throwing trash on the side of the road.
A property citation issued when garbage is left out in the open on property.
Of the 306 citations issued in 2019, 191 were related to property and 115 to individuals throwing litter out of a vehicle.
Of the 123 citations issued in 2020, 90 were related to property and 33 to litter being thrown out of a vehicle.
Orangeburg County Council Vice Chair Janie Cooper-Smith, who has frequently been outspoken on litter, described the county's litter problems as “atrocious.”
“Litter is an eyesore,” Cooper-Smith said. “It has as bad impact on the perception of the city.”
“It can keep visitors out and it can keep industry out,” she continued. “That is money that adds to our revenue.”
Cooper-Smith said taxpayers are the ones that suffer.
“When you litter, that is taxpayer money,” she said. “The more litter, the more manpower it takes to pick up that litter.”
Cooper-Smith said the litter problem has increased during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“The litter control workers cannot get out and work as freely as they were able to do before,” Cooper-Smith said. “We were going forward and we were not seeing as much as we had in the past.”
“Now we are overwhelmed again,” she said.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, says that despite of the strong leadership of county council, litter seems to be remaining steady in some areas and getting worse in others.
“I think not enough people see litter as a problem and understand what it says about us as a community,” Cobb-Hunter said. “Until that changes, it really will be more of the same.”
Orangeburg County Council amended the county’s litter ordinance a little over three years ago, increasing the maximum litter fine from $500 to $1,000.
According to the Orangeburg County Code of Ordinances, a person who litters is guilty of a misdemeanor and faces a fine or imprisonment.
The level of fine or imprisonment is based on the amount of litter.
A person who litters less than 15 pounds must be fined no less than $100 or no more than $200 and imprisoned for no more than 30 days. Five hours of community service is also required under the law.
“Most of our judges (since the new ordinance was written) will give the fine of $200 with hours of community service,” Young said.
For repeated violations, a minimum of 20 hours of community service may be imposed.
Magistrates and municipal courts can also publish the names of the people who violate the law and require violators to wear an orange safety vest labeled "LITTERBUG" during litter or other solid waste gathering labor.
Any person who litters between 15 pounds and 500 pounds faces at least a $200 fine and no more than $500, or imprisonment for not more than 90 days.
If more than 500 pounds is dumped, the violator can face a fine between $500 and $1,000 or be imprisoned not more than one year.
The violator would be required, under the law, to provide restitution by repairing any damage or harm caused by the litter and performing community service.
The county's ordinance also allows citizens to show receipts proving they paid another party to take their trash.
Prior to this amendment, when someone’s name or address was found in a bag or pile of litter, the courts often threw out the evidence as it does not specifically incriminate the violator.
“We will follow up with complaints coming into the office about illegal dumpsites and bags of trash thrown out,” Young said. “Officers investigate by going through the trash to see if they can locate where the trash comes from. If able to determine where it comes from, they issue citations.”
Cobb-Hunter also said fines and penalties should be increased and then enforced in order to continue to put a significant dent in the litter problem.
Orangeburg County Litter Control and Keep Orangeburg County Beautiful regularly organize volunteers for cleanup days throughout the county.
Two cleanups are typically done annually. The cleanups are sponsored by Palmetto Pride.
The county provides bags, gloves, vests and grabbers. The county also gathers the bags when complete.
Education seminars with local schools, churches and crime watch groups are also held. Signs are also posted saying “No Littering” and “No Dumping” in high-traffic areas on county roads.
The county's Community Development Ordinance also plays a role in keeping the county clean.
The county has also partnered with a local business owner and installed cameras down a local road. Officials are watching videos to find citizens throwing litter from their vehicles, Young said.
The county has also closed roads to address illegal dumpsites and other heavily littered areas.
A few years ago, the county spent $100,000 to purchase a machine that grabs and sucks up trash. The machine greatly reduces the time it takes to clean large areas.
Cobb-Hunter said the county has done about as much as it can do to address the problem.
“Litter is such a multi-faceted issue that requires a multi-pronged approach to solve,” Cobb-Hunter said. “The key component of that approach is personal responsibility both to not litter and to challenge those in our circle who choose to litter.”
Cooper-Smith said that litter is a mindset where those who litter “could care less” about whether or not they dirty another person's property.
“Many people get out and pick up on their property and everybody else's property near them,” she said. “If we had more people like that, Orangeburg would see a big change.”
Cooper-Smith says she believes litter enforcement is doing about as well as it can in issuing citations and the county's magistrates are “working with us the best they can under the conditions we are faced with now.”
She said the problem of litter should be obvious to everyone.
“You can see mattresses, you can see paper from fast food restaurants and plastic bags,” she said. “How can you not see it?”
Cooper-Smith said she is looking forward to when the COVID-19 pandemic is over so that regular cleanup efforts will be able to resume.
“Litter is a problem,” she said. “It is not just an Orangeburg County Council problem, it is everybody's problem.”
On a statewide level, PalmettoPride says there are about 100 officers dedicated to litter control in the state.
Sarah Lyles of PalmettoPride says enforcement is a challenge due to the small amount of litter control officers, but staffing issues are across the board.
“Law agencies are understaffed from the state level down to the local level,” Lyles said. “Also, our population has exploded and the number of litter officers per population is out of date.”
Another challenge is catching litterers in the act.
“Litterers know what they are doing and will most likely not throw trash out the window if they see a police car,” Lyles said.
Lyles also said a majority of law enforcement officers outside of litter and code officers will not write a litter ticket.
“Or if they do, chances are the judge will toss the case,” Lyles said. “This is changing and we are seeing more judges actively engage in litter enforcement, which is encouraging.”
Lyles said the S.C. Department of Public Safety issued 218 litter citations in 2017, 277 citations in 2018 and 341 in 2019. Lyles said there was no data on the number of convictions for those years.
Cobb-Hunter said the state's legislators have taken actions to help reduce litter.
“The Take Palmetto Pride in Where You Live bill that was signed into law in 2012 had an educational component that if implemented would teach school children about the importance of not littering,” she said. “I think involving children is a key part of the solution to the litter problem.”