What happens in Dalton can end up at the beach

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Litter from land-locked places such as Whitfield County can still end up washing up on the shores of beaches or out into the garbage patches of the ocean.

During summer it’s impossible to not think of the beach, even if fewer of us are taking vacations there this year. There is something you may accidentally be sending to the beach though — litter. We unintentionally send tons of small pieces of litter to the beach throughout the entire year and then often into the belly of a marine animal.

If you live in Whitfield County, you live in a watershed. This means that whenever you see a piece of litter, it can end up down a storm drain, into our streams and rivers and then eventually into the Atlantic Ocean. Storm drains are meant to catch rainwater and send it back into the streams for the water cycle which helps prevent flooding. Unfortunately, that often means carrying garbage with it.

An estimated 267 marine species are affected by plastic garbage, according to a 2008 study by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. This may mean getting tangled in wiry cords or ropes or ingesting it to the point of death.

The best way to stop marine debris is at the source. Marine debris comes from humans, meaning it is a solvable problem if we change our behavior. So, what can you do about a problem that is thousands of miles away?

The first step is to realize that although marine debris is not something that you see each day, the litter that you come across will eventually end up there if someone doesn't pick it up. The second step you need to take is to decide that someone can be you.

Here are a few of the tips you can implement in your home where you’ll have the most control over what happens to your trash.

Get started by finding out which materials you can recycle and which need to be disposed of by visiting dwswa.org or by calling (706) 278-5001 to reach the recycling center. Set up indoor recycling bins and trash cans in your home. Periodically collect the recyclables and waste from inside your home and place them in the trash cart or recycling bin for collection.

Next, take a look at your vehicle. Much of the litter produced in Whitfield County comes from commuters. Place a bag inside your car for easy disposal so that you aren’t tempted to throw anything out or leave trash in the floorboard where it can blow out on a windy day. When you stop to get gas, take an extra second to throw out all your trash in their trash cans.

When you pick up litter, and someone sees you do it, you may inspire them to do the same. Or at least, next time they’re about to throw something on the ground they’ll think twice. Often litterers just think of the trash as “going away” and finding out that someone has to pick it up decreases that kind of thinking.

Show your neighborhood some love too and potentially decrease the amount of littering over time by taking just 10 minutes to pick up trash you may find along the sidewalk. Carry a plastic shopping bag with you to pick up litter as you enjoy a walk. If you have children, challenge them to find 10 littered items and pick those up. Reward the ones who find 10 items the fastest, or start a scavenger hunt for different types of litter. The most commonly littered items include bottles, fast food packaging and cigarette butts.

Keep Dalton-Whitfield Beautiful has resumed litter pickups which means that anyone can put in an application to borrow supplies and help clean up our town through the Adopt-A-Spot program. I was excited to receive an application last week from a local citizen who is not only planning to clean up an area themselves, but also engage their neighbors in the effort as well.

Cleaning up litter is a great way to get together while still social distancing and it will help keep our beaches pristine for next year’s vacation!

Amy Hartline is the recycling and education program coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority. Have a recycling question? Contact her at (706) 278-5001 or at ahartline@dwswa.org.

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