Op-EdOpinion

ALSOBROOKS: A New Approach to Combating Litter in Prince George’s County

For decades, Prince George’s County has struggled with a litter problem. Our residents have long expressed their frustration with illegal dumping, debris left on roadways and sidewalks, and trash in our parks and on our properties. Litter is a visual symbol of neglect, lack of accountability and a lack of commitment to safeguarding the environment. In short, litter tells the community and the world, “We don’t care.”

This ambivalence saddens and frustrates me as well. With more than 27,000 acres of park land and green spaces, Prince George’s County is a place of great natural beauty that we have a responsibility to protect and preserve. Keeping our county clean will make it a healthier, safer place to live and raise our children; increase our property values; attract new jobs and tourism dollars; and bolster our economy. We are Prince George’s Proud and we need to show it.

Quality of life for our more than 900,000 residents is a top priority for me, and I know I have to approach these systemic issues differently to create real change. Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results.” What is different this time? I know the county’s beautification efforts must be more than just another slogan. They need to change behavior, attitudes and perceptions of our county. I am committed to funding and leading a cohesive, multiyear initiative to create a cleaner and greener county.

I will tackle our litter problem with the latest innovations in green technology, new services for residents, policy changes, better law enforcement of illegal dumping and improved coordination with the state. The first evidence of this will occur during the week of April 29 when residents will witness coordinated efforts of removing litter and illegal dumping along county roadways. We refer to these coordinated efforts as “Litter Blitzes.” This will showcase our collaborative efforts and strong partnership between the county, State Highway Administration and contractors to maintain a clean Prince George’s County.

In addition, I will work with community leaders to engage and educate residents to find sustainable, collaborative solutions. “Community-Based Social Marketing” is central to our campaign strategy. We will leverage the power of peer-to-peer tactics and social strategies to engage all residents, but especially our youth.

Studies show that a clean environment can affect behavior positively while a dirty environment can do the opposite. In other words, litter begets litter. We have to set the standard. We must demonstrate our own commitment if we want others to follow our lead. We will define roles and responsibilities for the county and our residents. We will urge the community to take ownership and to do their part. And, with better infrastructure, we will make it easier for everyone to do the right thing.

I believe building on a series of small successes will lead to countywide change. We will launch our anti-litter campaign by inviting the community to participate in a cleanup in their own neighborhoods. By starting close to home, we are encouraging residents to take responsibility for their own investments. This sends the message that we are all empowered to improve our communities.

I know this isn’t a quick fix. Shifting perceptions and encouraging positive behaviors takes continuous and consistent effort. We will need to repeat the message many times in many ways to reach all audiences in a meaningful way. We have dedicated the resources necessary to make this a long-term commitment—and we are going to hold ourselves accountable. We will measure our progress by analyzing data on county cleanup activities and costs.

Right now, the county spends more than $13 million per year on litter cleanup, and the state spends additional funding in our county. Reducing those costs will allow us to allocate funding to other programs and services to benefit our residents.

We are all proud of our county and we can all be part of the solution. It has to be different this time — and, together, we will make sure it is.

Alsobrooks is Prince George’s County executive.

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