Litter Prevention Impacts Economic Development

Perhaps the best place a community can start on economic development is simply to clean up.

"Litter is not just an environmental problem," said Robert Phelps, director of Keep Arkansas Beautiful, an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, "it is also an economic development issue. If you don't believe it, just look at Wynne for further proof."

Just last year, the community of Wynne landed an auto parts plant when the site-selection committee noticed how litter-free the town was and added the town to its list of communities to consider. Wynne wasn't even on the committee's original list of towns to consider, Phelps said, but committee members just happened to be passing through on their way to other Delta towns under consideration.

Another example Phelps gave is Conway County. After losing more than 1,000 jobs when two industrial plants closed four years ago, a study by a nationally known plant-location consultant found that Morrilton, the county's largest city, didn't show well to industrial prospects. This gave community leaders the impetus to focus on cleaning up and revitalizing the county seat. Other towns in the county were energized to do the same.

A litter pickup campaign was launched, and last year the volunteer pickup crews collected almost 2,000 tons of litter and debris along with 237 tons of paper products and 140 tons of metal material for recycling. Owners of Morrilton buildings have made improvements — from fresh coats of paint to complete renovation — to their properties, and master gardeners and other volunteers have landscaped a number of flower beds along Morrilton's main thoroughfare.

"By allowing litter in your community, you might as well put up a billboard that says you don't care about your community's future," Phelps said.

A litter-reporting hotline started last December by the Arkansas State Highway & Transportation Department allows individuals to call toll-free 24 hours a day, seven days a week to (866) 811-1222. Motorists should provide the date and location where the littering occurred, a description of the vehicle and the license plate, and a description of what was littered. Since the hotline's launch, more than 1,500 calls have been logged.

"It really does take a cross section of the community to prevent litter and positively impact economic development," Phelps said. "From the individual to the largest employer in town, everyone has a role to play, and if litter and community improvement are given the attention they need and deserve, a community can reap the benefits well into the future."