Litter is a big problem in Kentucky. In a year's time, all the bags of litter would stretch four- hundred plus miles...from Paducah to Pikeville.
Keeping Lexington a clean place to live is a massive job that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and involves an army of people. We wanted to see for ourselves, what it takes to make our city, litter free, and where some of the biggest trouble spots are located.
It doesn't take a genius to see Lexington is exploding in growth. The latest population number for the city shows a jump of 47-thousand people in the last ten-years...up to 318-thousand.
And with that growth comes bigger city problems like littering and trashy streets and property.
Susan Plueger, Director of Environmental Services says, "It takes all of us to keep the city looking good. We want to do our very best for the citizens of Fayette County."
Plueger is on a mission.
"Litter in general is a community wide problem. It requires a community wide solution...so that includes all of our citizens."
She leads and helps organize an army of people who pick up trash, including city employees, contracted crews, volunteers, non-profits, inmates, and most recently, panhandlers looking for work. Right now "they're" picking up litter twice a week, and it's adding up.
Susan says of the panhandlers picking up litter, "It's been huge. We estimate they're going to pick up around 38-tons of trash, just with that program alone."
The numbers are pretty staggering.
This year contracted litter crews are expected to pick up 50 tons of trash, non- profits in a program called Adopt-a-Spot, 18-tons, Great American Cleanup volunteers, 37-tons, inmates, 17-tons, and city workers, 23-tons. Add the panhandler's program operated by New Life Day Center, with 38-tons, and you have a grand total of 183-tons of litter, picked up in a year, just in Fayette County. For some perspective, that would equal 36 elephants, each weighing about 10,000 pounds.
Some of the common places that collect trash are under bridges, along fences, rail road tracks, alleys, and at convenience stores. For example, this is under the West Main Street bridge, just past the Lexington Cemetery.
Plueger says, "it's kinda like a no man's land. It's picked up by the city, but there's no property owners that consider this their front yard."
Often contract crews are hired to do the work. They're not city employees.
"This is a typical area that we would see around town. A lot of people don't go out and see these areas, they don't know they exist, but they're all over town."
Major roads in and out of town like Leestown Road are called corridors, and are hot spots for litter. On this day a crew of inmates from Fayette County Detention is picking up trash.
Rob Allen of Streets and Roads says, "These fellows are state class D felons, the lowest level of felon. They've been really vetted, by not just the state, but our corrections department here in Fayette County. They're close to being released...non-violent."
"It's kinda of a reward to be outside working."
Martie Deering is doing time for drug possession.
He says, "It means a lot. Time goes by faster. Earn a little respect from the community."
I asked him, "when do you get out?"
Deering says, "February of next year."
One of the ways the city of Lexington monitors how much litter is on the streets of our city-is thru- what's called a a litter survey. It's done once a year in the month of March by volunteers of Keep Lexington Beautiful."
For the litter survey, Lexington is divided up into sectors that each contain ten areas. Volunteers drive through each area, and score it by how much litter they see. The scores are averaged for the ten areas, and each sector receives a final litter score.
Plueger says, "We use that to determine where are our more littered areas, where do we need to focus on for more pick up."
At the round about at Old Frankfort Pike and Alexandria, city crews are cleaning up the road gutters by removing grass in the cracks, and shoveling up debris that includes cigarette buts.This does two things: makes the road cleaner looking, like this section right here, and keeps the cigarette buts from eventually ending up in our water supply.
Plueger says, "From a water quality perspective, we want to prevent litter, cigarette buts, dirt and debris, like this from even entering into our storm water system."
"All of our water, when it rains, it runs off into our storm drains or our swells, and it runs into our creeks, and it eventually gets to the Kentucky River."
The price tag for all this work is at least 300-thousand dollars...half is budgeted from the city, and the rest through the KY Pride Litter Abatement Grant. If you see piles of trash, the city needs your help.
Plueger says, "they can call 3-1-1, and let us know where there's a litter site, and we will go out there, and we'll take care of it."
To check out the litter survey from this year, go to wkyt.com.
There are also many ways for the public to get involved. You can donate to lexgive.com for the panhandling program, you can take part in the "Adopt-a-Spot" program or a "Great American Cleanup" event. and you can volunteer with the "Keep Lexington Beautiful" commission."
For more information on the litter survey in Lexington, go to http://www.keeplexingtonbeautiful.com/