09/26/11 — Local volunteers sought for annual state litter cleanup

View Archive

Local volunteers sought for annual state litter cleanup

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on September 26, 2011 1:46 PM

Last year, 149 Wayne County volunteers picked up more than 600 pounds of trash around 25 miles of roadway. This year during the 2011 Big Sweep, they hope to top that.

Big Sweep will be held Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

This will be the 25th anniversary of the statewide cleanup, and officials are hoping for 25,000 volunteers in North Carolina.

Big Sweep is part of the International Coastal Cleanup, a global effort to rid the environment of debris.

North Carolina Big Sweep was founded in 1987 as Beach Sweep, a coastal cleanup with 1,000 volunteers. It was expanded inland and renamed North Carolina Big Sweep in 1989.

During its 24-year history, more than 300,000 volunteers have picked up more than 10 million pounds of debris, the equivalent of more than 25,000 football fields five feet deep.

Last year, Wayne County had eight sites and volunteers put in 596 hours picking up 600 pounds of trash. In addition to the usual cigarette butts that are found, volunteers also picked up several bed frames, shovel blades, beverage cans, metal fenders and even a paper hazmat suit, local Big Sweep coordinator Barbara Byers said.

"One year a group cleaned down by the Neuse River and found 100 tennis balls along the edge," she said. "They couldn't figure out what they were from until they finally discovered that there was a house owner who would throw tennis balls for his dog and they would bounce in the river."

Ms. Byers said for Wayne County, cigarettes are still in the top 10 items picked up each year, which now also includes tires for the first time, plastic food containers, bottles, cans, caps and lids, eating utensils, straws and stir sticks.

There are 13 sites so far this year, including Waynesborough Park, six after-school program sites, Goldsboro High School and U.S. 13.

Ms. Byers is asking any individual, group or business that wants to help with Big Sweep to register their site. Big Sweep provides trash bags and gloves for volunteers. There are also data cards that will give Big Sweep information on who cleaned, where and how much trash was picked up.

Supplies need to be picked up no later than Sept. 30. Volunteers will call in their results to Ms. Byers.

Big Sweep is important for several reasons. Litter hurts the economy because businesses don't want to locate in trashy areas and tourists don't want to linger in trashy areas, won't spend money and won't return with their friends.

Also, litter is a human health problem because it attracts disease-carrying mosquitoes and rodents, and as it decomposes, it puts chemicals into the groundwater.

And litter is deadly to wildlife because when wildlife mistakes it for food, it can suffocate an animal, clog its digestive tract and cause it to slowly starve to death.

An animal entangles in litter is rarely able to free itself and most often attracts other wildlife to the same hazard.

Here are some safety tips for volunteers:

* Don't go barefoot. Wear closed-toed shoes that you won't mind getting wet or dirty.

* Take a hat or visor, insect repellent and sunscreen.

* Wear work or rubber gloves.

* Take a snack and something to drink.

* Be sure children are supervised by an adult.

* Watch out for poison ivy, poison oak and snakes.

* Avoid injured or strange-acting animals as they may bite or be infected.

* Don't touch medical waste, chemical containers or barrels, pesticides or other dangerous items. Note their location and tell the site coordinator to contact the proper authorities.

* Wear a life jacket if you're cleaning by boat.

* Don't wade into the water unless you wear a life jacket and know the depth of the water.