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'Litter and it will hurt'

The Washington State Department of Ecology wants to send out a message: “Litter and it will hurt.”

More than 16 million pounds of litter are tossed and blown onto roadways every year in Washington. The Department of Ecology estimates that only 25 to 35 percent of litter gets picked up.

Litter is not only an eyesore, it causes 400 accidents on roadways each year.

“A lot of people think of litter as an existential issue,” said Megan Warfield, litter program coordinator. “It’s a safety issue.”

The department relaunched its “Litter and it will hurt” campaign earlier this month. The program started in 2002, but ran out of funding in late 2005. Warfield decided to take that time to analyze the program.

“We decided to step back and evaluate what we’d done,” Warfield said.

She discovered the litter prevention campaign’s message was working, the amount of litter in the state was slowly decreasing.

“The campaign was definitely on the right track,” Warfield said. “We really didn’t want to lose any of that momentum.”

Spring marks the beginning of litter season, according to Warfield, so it only made sense to relaunch the “Litter and it will hurt” campaign in April. The main focuses of the renewed campaign are driving with unsecured loads, throwing out lit cigarettes and the litter hotline.

Warfield received $400,000 to fund the 2007 litter prevention campaign. Television commercials began airing April 16. They can be viewed during televised Seattle Mariners games on Fox Sports Northwest. The commercials remind people that Washington has tough litter penalties and litterers are being watched. Other advertisements are on billboards and transit buses.

The Department of Ecology teamed up with the Washington State Patrol, Grant, Grays Harbor, King and Kitsap counties’ police departments to implement a litter enforcement campaign.

Police officers and deputies received overtime funding from the Department of Ecology to target drivers who fail to safely secure their loads and those who litter. Police officials also are distributing litter bags and brochures until the end of the month.

Kitsap County deputies contacted 192 drivers for various load and litter violations in 2006 including escaped debris, lighted debris, thrown debris, secure loads and uncovered loads. Drivers are fined $194 for throwing litter on the highway and for failure to secure loads.

Other counties have shown interest in participating in the litter campaign.

“As funding becomes available, we will definitely do them (heightened patrols) again,” Warfield said.

People are encouraged to call the litter hotline if they see someone throw out debris or drive with an unsecured load. The litter hotline is 866-LITTER-1. Offending drivers will receive a warning letter about the dangers of littering from Washington State Patrol.

“They can’t issue a ticket based on hearsay,” Warfield said.

The Kitsap County Solid Waste Division also is working with the Department of Ecology. They are helping educate the public at landfills and transfer stations.

“These couple weeks in April we are hitting it (litter) from all angles,” Warfield said.

She plans to work with businesses that utilize trucks throughout the state this summer. She hopes to educate employees about the danger of unsecured loads.

“I really see the value of educating people about this issue,” Warfield said. “I’m happy to be a part of the solution.”

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