By Barbara Kessler

Texas has had the catchiest jingle about littering. But many other states and community groups also don’t want to be messed with.

newdontmesswithtexas.jpgYes, litter, that side issue in the climate change dialogue is back, or rather, it’s still hanging around. And plenty of people are peeved at their fellow humans who flaunt their disregard for the environment by tossing trash.

The Internet has even given rise to a website devoted exclusively to helping prevent the world from being turned into an ashtray. assists people in reporting cigarette butt litterers at their complaint page and has taken nearly 40,000 reports since starting in 2003.

Litterbutt keeps interesting stats that single out the worst offenders. Watch out men in your 30s!

Never one to trail the pack on this issue, Texas has a litter reporting program as well and it’s not just confined to cigarette butts. The Texas Report a Litterer program doesn’t have quite the same lilt as the Don’t Mess With jingle, but the concept is more evolved. Rather than just thinking about littering and being careful not to do any yourself, Report a Litterer takes you to the next level, providing a way to rat out the driver in front of you who just tossed bag of fast food trash onto the street.

That actually happened to me once. A woman opened her car door, darted a furtive look around – which was downright comical because we were in a MALL PARKING LOT where a gazillion people could see her – and set a fast food bag full of trash on the ground alongside her SUV. Then she drove off.

I wrote down her license plate. But when I called the local police to ask about reporting her, they said they couldn’t do anything about it. That’s true, in fact, a law officer has to catch someone in the act in order to ticket them for littering. They can’t take my word for it.

But that’s where the Report a Litterer campaign steps in, allowing citizens to report a litterer by license plate number and description directly to the Texas Department of Transportation at the Report a Litterer webpage.

The offender can’t be fined, but they will get a letter informing them that they were spotted doing their dirty deed, along with a Don’t Mess with Texas trash bag for their car or pick up truck. That might be enough of a Big Brother scare to make them think about it next time…of course, the defiant garbage spewer will scoff at this toothless measure.

But now for the good news: At least four other states, Washington, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Iowa have adopted similar programs that harness citizen complaints in the fight against roadside trash. All of these programs also send letters to offenders if reports have adequate information.

Here are the links:

Washington Department of Ecology

PA Cleanways

North Carolina’s online “Swat a Litter Bug” program

Keep Iowa Beautiful

A word of caution: The texas website urges you not to confront litterers in person. There are apparently enough triggers to road rage without starting a row over a candy wrapper.

If perchance, you’re appealing to a reasoned listener on this issue, the Texas DOT has compiled some talking points for you. Such as: Don’t be lulled into thinking that your friendly neighbhorhood convict is picking up all that icky trash for free. Hired crews pick up 90 percent of that state’s trash at a cost to taxpayers of $24 million!

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