By Caitlin McAlister
Tyler County has a litter problem.
Every day, people throw trash out onto roads all over the county. A local movement, Keep Tyler County Clean, has recently begun trying to address the issue of garbage thrown out alongside roadways in Tyler County.
"It's a noticeable problem unique to East Texas," John Wilson, founder of Keep Tyler County Clean, said. "Other areas in Texas are doing better than we are. It doesn't have to be this way."
Wilson, a Woodville resident, began Keep Tyler County Clean after taking an interest in the issue of litter along county roadways.
"The county and city don't have the resources," he said. "They basically don't have the money or the manpower to pick up trash." He said that the state picks up litter along highways twice a year, but that those areas become dirty again soon after being cleaned up.
Wilson said that the amount of litter along some roadways is excessive.
"The Rotary Club picked up the Old Livingston Highway — a portion of it," he said. "They picked up 32 bags (of trash) in a one mile portion."
Wilson said that Keep Tyler County Clean wants to educate people in the community about the impact that littering has on the county. As part of this effort, he has sent letters to schools and businesses in the county, asking them to raise awareness of the issue.
"This is what people see when they visit our county," he said. "This is their first impression when they drive into it. One of the taglines I've been putting into the letters is 'throw it out at home, not on the road.'"
Wilson said that local residents should also be conscious of the impact that trash has on the environment.
"Everyone who enjoys fishing in our local waterways – that's where this trash is going," he said. "What happens when it's thrown out, is your highway mowing crews come along and mulch it into smaller pieces, which are easier to carry downstream. Those go down tributaries, which are creeks, into the Neches River, into our local lakes, and into the Gulf, and it's washing up on our beaches. Much of the trash found on Texas beaches starts off thrown out on the side of the highway."
Wilson said that not all of the trash that winds up alongside roads is thrown out deliberately.
"Another thing that we stress is for people who drive trucks not to throw trash in the back of their trucks," he said. He said that lighter pieces of garbage, such as empty feed sacks or Styrofoam cups, will often blow out of the backs of pickup trucks at highway speeds. "That's where a lot of it comes from, is blowout."
Wilson said he believes that bad habits may contribute to the amount of litter being thrown out in the county.
"I don't know whether it's because we have more population or it's become acceptable," he said. "I suspect it's just become accepted, that the bar has been lowered. I think people become jaded at seeing it to a point where they don't notice it anymore. Once you change the habit and become aware of it, it's an easy change to make."
Wilson said that Keep Tyler County Clean has been encouraging people to help clean up roadways in the county, either by picking up trash along particular roads on their own or through the state's Adopt-a-Highway program. He said that only a few sections of highway in the county have been officially adopted.
"Pretty much everything is available for adoption," he said. He said interested individuals can adopt a section of highway through the Texas Department of Transportation. "They will call the local TxDOT office and fill out paperwork to adopt a highway. Their requirement is that it be cleaned quarterly. Once you start cleaning it, the neighbors take notice and the cleanliness begets more cleanliness."
Although there is currently no official means of adopting roads other than highways, Wilson said Keep Tyler County Clean also encourages people to clean up county roads. He said those wishing to do so can announce their intention to clean up a particular area through the Keep Tyler County Clean Facebook page.
"We would like to model it after the Adopt-a-Highway program, where people adopt a section that's in need and clean it quarterly," he said.
Keep Tyler County Clean recently participated in the city of Woodville's Spring Clean on March 17.
"We are trying to get an avenue for people to work together instead of being individually aware, to get involved," Wilson said.
Since Keep Tyler County Clean began six weeks ago, the movement has been growing, Wilson said.
"We have about 50 to 60 volunteers," he said. "It's growing. We're trying to make it a county-wide effort. The response has been good. The more people get involved, the better our county will be for it."
For more information, visit the Keep Tyler County Clean Facebook page or contact John Wilson at 409-283-5377.