Spring has arrived in Kentucky. 

The woodland floor is alive with vibrant green plastic bottles, shimmering shards of broken glass, bright yellow fast food wrappers and white plastic bags. It is not just in the woods that trash comes to life in Kentucky. It is along our roadsides, in our waterways and in our towns where careless drivers thoughtlessly toss their litter. 

County inmates are a common sight along our state roadways as they pick up hundreds of pounds of litter in an almost fruitless attempt to beautify our scenic byways. Local civic groups adopt portions of local roads and our cities and counties sponsor trash cleanup days but the littering continues. The discarded debris strewn around the Commonwealth is not only unsightly but also is harmful to the physical, environmental and economic health of the Commonwealth. 

Paper, glass and plastic, plus appliances, tires, furniture, mattresses and even cars clog our waterways impairing our water quality. Piles of waste and water sources filled with debris become stagnant breeding grounds for disease. Littering is unsightly, unhealthy and also illegal though rarely subject to enforcement and prosecution. 

The Commonwealth is becoming more reliant on tourism to boost our economy, with visitors flocking to our world class distilleries and burgeoning food scene as well as to fish and boat on our lakes, to hike and climb our rugged limestone hills and enjoy our scenic back-country roads. The garbage in our mountains, lakes, creeks and along our roadways spoils the travel experience and undercuts the effort of both public and private entities to build pleasure travel in the Commonwealth. 

Unfortunately, we are responsible for the majority of this litter. Too much of our waste ends up not in landfills or recycling centers but along roadsides, in the woods and forests or floating in the rivers. 

Our mandatory statewide solid waste collection programs lack uniformity and, too often, accessibility. Numerous bills intended to reduce litter and protect the environment have been considered by the General Assembly, but not passed; they are defeated in part through the efforts of well-funded lobbyists. 

While their passage would be a small step in the right direction, it is incumbent upon us all to to work together to clean up, to preserve, to protect and to prevent further damage to our fragile environment. We must do this not only for our benefit but also for future generations. Every time we carelessly throw a cigarette butt out the car window, drop a piece of paper or look the other way when the remnants of someone’s fast food meal goes flying onto the roadside, we are complicit in the harm it causes to the Commonwealth. 

Prevention is the key to a litter-free environment. Be responsible by cleaning up your communities. Small acts, such as keeping a small trash bag in the car, picking up litter you see and properly disposing of it, make a large difference. Use tight-fitting lids on trash cans set out for collection and pick up anything dropped during that process. Reuse or recycle whenever possible. When you see someone litter, pick it up and throw it away. If you live where there is no curbside pick up take your trash and recycling to the designated locations for proper disposal. 

Educate yourself, your friends and your family members about the devastating impact littering has on the environment. Report littering to the authorities – take photographs and record license plates to assist enforcement of littering laws, participate in your community cleanup and river sweeps or do as my brother-in-law does on Fridays, take a large trash bag and a stick and pick up trash on your daily walk. 

Finally, actively lobby your legislators to enact effective legislation to help us protect the natural beauty of our Commonwealth. 

Kathryn Hendrickson is a writer, attorney and nurse living in Maysville, Kentucky


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