On Your Side: Taxpayers paying staggering bill on litter cleanup

Published: Jul. 2, 2021 at 12:18 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - If you’ve seen the trash piled up on the side of the road lately, you’re not alone. It’s an ongoing problem and you’re paying for it. In this On Your Side Investigation we set out to find exactly how much.

It’s not uncommon to see household trash, luggage, mattresses and even small appliances checkering the roadsides in certain areas in the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County.

“We’re dealing with a very big problem,” explained Cal Markart, Deputy Jefferson County Manager. “It’s discouraging to see this many people throw trash out on the side of the road and we are working as hard as we can [to clean it up].”

How big? Jefferson County’s already collected 600 tons of litter off the roadways over the last eight months. A job so expansive, the county’s hired twelve additional employees this year to focus on curtailing the roadside clutter.

‘We’ve spent almost a half million dollars just picking up litter on taxpayers’ money,” admitted Markart.

That figure only accounts for the first 3 quarters of this fiscal year and doesn’t include dumping costs which are totaled out in October. Combine it with the City of Birmingham’s illegal dumping costs and taxpayers are tossing out at least $2 million dollars a year on other people’s trash.

Birmingham is mounting its own campaign, installing cameras to catch and ultimately fine the culprits. In Alabama, a first-time littering conviction is $500, additional penalties and fines can top out at $2000.

Surprisingly, practical solutions often exacerbate the problem.

“Studies show if you put up a no litter sign, sometimes that makes it worse,” Markart said.

Trash lines neighborhood roadsides in Brighton community.
Trash lines neighborhood roadsides in Brighton community.(WBRC)

The City of Birmingham has mandatory trash pickup and four dumpsites where residents can dispose of trash free of charge. Jefferson County aims to keep costs down by allowing residents to subscribe to weekly trash services at will.

“So, we’ve got a new company picking up garbage, we do have several thousand more people signed up since we’ve started so we’re hoping that helps,” said Markart.

The environmental costs of illegal dumping are immeasurable. Often what starts on the roadsides eventually washes into local waterbodies during a hard rain. “I’ve seen Valley Creek and some of these creeks - and you would not believe how much plastic in the creeks which ends up in the rivers,” Markart acknowledged. “Just this week we’re working with a Freshwater Land Trust who does a great job and trying to clean up, trying to get devices in the streams to the catch the plastic.”

If you see people illegally dumping trash, agencies ask that you take a picture of the incident and the driver’s tag number. That information can help pursue possible charges.

City of Birmingham
  • report illegal dumping: 311
  • organize community cleanup projects: 205-297-8192
  • for more information click here
Jefferson County:
  • report illegal dumping: 205-582-6555
  • organize community cleanup projects: 205-325-8741
  • for more information click here

Click here to contact the WBRC FOX6 News On Your Side Investigation Team.

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