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Editorial: Bugged by litter

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At a sometimes heated town meeting, residents from Forest Hills and Rego Park let local elected officials know that they have had it up to here with the litter and doggie doo on their sidewalks. One resident said that she has been complaining to the Department of Sanitation for eight years and nothing has changed.

There are few communities in Queens that do not share the frustration voiced at this meeting. But the public should think twice before asking the city government to solve this problem. This is a local problem that is best solved on the local level without the heavy hand of government.

In the previous administration, the Department of Sanitation held local merchants accountable for even the smallest piece of litter found in front of their stores. The tickets were costly and abusive. Businesses were held responsible for keeping the sidewalks clean. But no storeowner should be held accountable for candy wrappers discarded by people passing in front of the store. It would be equally unfair to make a homeowner pay for litter dropped by people waiting for a bus at a bus stop that just happened to be located near his or her house.

The problem is that catching the actual litterbug is extremely difficult. These pigs may be ignorant, but they are probably not stupid enough to drop their trash in front of a sanitation cop. Much as we'd like to see the litterbugs get ticketed, it isn't likely to happen. Likewise, at a time when the city is trying to rein in a massive municipal budget, the cost of creating an army of street cleaners makes would be excessive.

The solution to this problem must come from within the community. There are large cities where throwing litter on the street is practically unheard of. The people who live in these cities would not tolerate such selfishness and should not be tolerated here.

Adults should not hesitate to confront children and other adults who carelessly throw trash on the sidewalk. This can be done with a simple, "We're trying to keep our sidewalk clean. Would you please pick up your trash and put it where it belongs." Parents should make certain that their children understand that littering is unacceptable behavior.

The next step is not likely to be popular. Communities may have to organize their own street cleaning. Merchants associations, block associations, churches, schools and scouts can all become part of the solution. This may be time-consuming at first, but following the "broken windows" principle, it should get easier. As the street becomes cleaner, people will be far less likely to litter.

Another possibility is to adopt the strategy used by the Giuliani administration to keep highways clean. Businesses could adopt an entire block, putting up the small amount of money each week to keep it clean.

This is not likely to sit well with the people who are pointing their fingers at the Department of Sanitation. Nevertheless, the truth is that this is a problem caused by the community that can only be solved by the community.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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