Berkeley County Litter Program Takes On Waste One Mile At A Time
Berkeley County’s Community Service Roadside Litter Program, which launched three years ago, is the only litter program in the state that is full-time, runs five days a week and uses community service day-in-and-day-out. Most of the participants are people who have chosen community service instead of being incarcerated.
“Community service has a big part to do with it,” said Allen Hart, deputy marshal for the Berkeley County Courthouse. “If we wouldn’t have community service, we wouldn’t be able to do this job.”
Hart and his partner, fellow deputy marshal Noel Ebersole, spend their workday supporting the program participants by driving alongside them as they walk various roadways in the county -- from back roads to the highway.
Participants toss full bags of litter onto Hart’s truck. Often they collect 40-85 bags of litter a day over a distance of just two to four miles.
Ebersole drives a small bus with a bathroom, drinking water and hand sanitizers ahead of the group. The participants get breaks throughout the day and are also fed lunch.
“What I’ll do is stay a couple hundred yards in front of them,” Ebersole said. “And we keep the people in between us, so we keep an eye on them and keep them safe.”
Litter waste in the U.S. increased during the coronavirus pandemic. Garbage workers had to pivot, halting some waste pickups, and people used more plastic bags, containers and disposable masks. According to the Keep America Beautiful 2020 National Litter Study, more than 200 million personal protective equipment (PPE) items were littered on U.S. roadways and waterways through early fall.
West Virginia has also experienced an increase in litter waste, but counties have been trying to tackle it.
Over its three years, the Berkeley County Community Service Roadside Litter Program has serviced more than 120 different roads within the county and amassed more than 476,000 pounds of litter.
The program also recently hit a major milestone. It’s serviced more than 1,000 miles of road since it began and collected more than 9,000 bags of litter.
Sandy Rogers, program manager for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan program, or REAP, provides West Virginia counties with support like grants and bags for litter cleanup.
Rogers said Berkeley County likely collects the most bags of any county. Berkeley is the fastest-growing county in the state and has seen a population boom in recent years.
“I think the more people you have in an area, the more litter you’ll see on the side of the road,” Rogers said. “These high traffic areas -- you're going to notice that more.”
From 2010 to 2019, Berkeley County has grown by 15,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s an increase of more than 14 percent.
This population growth and subsequent increase in litter is one of the reasons why the litter program in Berkeley County was started.
“We took it upon ourselves to try to start a program to not only beautify Berkeley County but also to boost people's morale, even the ones that are in community service,” said Berkeley County Council President Doug Copenhaver.
Berkeley’s roadside litter program is housed under the Berkeley County Council. “The whole intention of the whole program is never, ever beat somebody down, but to bring them up," Copenhaver said.
Along with the council, the county’s judicial system plays a big role and provides workers for the program. Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Catie Wilkes-Delligatti said the program helps to hold offenders accountable while allowing them to remain home with their families.
“This is a way for them to repay their debt to our community,” Wilkes-Delligatti said. “It's utilizing people who are available to us to make our community a better place to live, both by beautifying the streets but also by repaying a wrong that they've committed to our society.”
The program also saves the county money. Copenhaver said the county’s regional jail bill has gone down by about $1.5 million since 2016. While the litter program didn’t launch until 2018, Copenhaver thinks the program has made a positive impact on the county budget.
The Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority is another community partner in the litter program. At the end of every day, the bags that are loaded up onto Allen Hart’s truck are left at one of two drop-off points for the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority. Clint Hogbin, who has been the head of the solid waste authority for nearly 30 years, said the litter program is making a difference.
“It takes five or six different agencies to make this work,” Hogbin said. “And the solid waste authority was thrilled that when we all sat down at our very first meeting, and we went around, ‘What can you do? What can you do? What can you do?’ And next thing we knew, all the pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place, literally very quickly.”
Hogbin said once the waste is dropped off at the solid waste authority, a regional waste agency called Apple Valley Waste will pick up all the bags for free. Some of the bags even go to Entsorga West Virginia -- a new waste-to-energy facility that opened in the county a few years ago.
“Berkeley County’s investing in people,” said Mike Laing, Berkeley County’s chief court marshal and the head of the roadside litter program. “They’re not just putting them in jail. Everybody has a bad day, and they’re giving people alternatives to get their lives straightened out, and I think that’s really what Berkeley County is standing for.”
While Laing and other county officials say they are proud of the program, they also note they are disheartened by the continuous need for litter cleanup efforts.
“It’s been well-received by the public, but the sad part is there’s a need for it,” Laing said. “[But] anytime that you can have programs that better individuals, saves the taxpayers' money … it pays dividends.”