No one is more passionate on the subject of trash and litter than Mark Camp, the new director of the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission. And to my surprise, he has informed me that discarded cigarettes are the No. 1 litter issue in Arkansas. It’s Mark’s responsibility to see that we clean them up.
The topic is timely today because we are in the midst of the 2017 Great Arkansas Cleanup. Volunteers around the state are scouring the roadsides and beating the bushes, bagging up fast-food wrappers, old tires, discarded shoes, dirty diapers and a wide variety of other man-made debris.
Mark is stepping into the big shoes of a couple of others who were passionate about keeping Arkansas picked up. The late Carl Garner started it all as chief of the engineering division for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Greers Ferry Project. Mr. Garner loved the lake, and in 1969, he started what became an annual cleanup around the lake.
In 1985, then U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers helped pass the Carl Garner Federal Lands Cleanup Act, which requires a clean-up of all federal lands the weekend after Labor Day.
For the past 20 years, Bob Phelps was the executive director of Keep Arkansas Beautiful. He retired this summer, and Mark took over.
Arkansas is one of the Top 10 states for pounds of trash per person – not a statistic we should brag about. Mark attributes our ranking to our consumption of fast food – the wrappers and cups often end up everywhere but a trash can.
Mark notes that people in pickups inadvertently contribute to the problem when they deposit their trash in the truck bed. More often that not, the wind blows the trash out.
As for cigarette butts, Mark can tick off many problems. For instance, the butts are made of cellulose acetate, not cotton, and that’s a plastic that doesn’t biodegrade.
The filters are designed to remove toxins from tobacco smoke, so each butt is a poison-filled capsule that birds and other animals ingest. Rain washes the butts into storm drains, and they eventually travel into our waterways, where fish can swallow them.
At KeepArkansasBeautiful.com, Mark and his staff have posted information about clean-up events around the state. You can register to volunteer. This year’s campaign ends October 31.
In 2016, 14,000 volunteers picked up over 500,000 pounds of trash – that’s 252 tons. Volunteers collected 1.8 million pounds of bulky waste and over 9,500 tires. Volunteers cleaned 1,100 miles of roadside, 1,300 miles of waterway and 17,000 acres of parks and other public areas. Volunteers also planted over 4,300 trees, shrubs and flowers.
Arkansans are generous people who take care of a need when they see it. The numbers from last year’s Great Arkansas Cleanup bear that out. I’m confident that when Director Camp releases the numbers from this year’s campaign, the statistics will be equally impressive. Thank you for taking care of our state.