In the Name of Beauty by Al Sikes


Several different phenomena are used to explain delightful winter temperatures. All I know for certain is that this winter has featured some wonderful opportunities for hiking or biking or just walking along our beautiful pathways.

But, there is a very unfortunate blemish, litter. Bottles, cans, fast food containers, discarded household goods—the list seems endless. Litter is a fact of life. Living with it shouldn’t be.

Warnings and fines and admonitions seem to make little difference. Talbot County law, for example, states: “It shall be the duty of every person as owner, occupant, lessee or agent in charge of land lying within the unincorporated areas of the County, …………, not to allow litter to be deposited or to accumulate, either temporarily or permanently, on such lands…………….” And we have all seen those signs that promise $1,000 fines for anybody caught littering. If law enforcement regularly penalizes either litterers or those that allow it to accumulate on their rights-of-way I am unaware of it.

Recently I became aware of actions in a county not too far from ours. Harford County has an active local program including Adopt-a-Road. Its web site claims that the Adopt-a-Road initiative has accomplished the following: “Total Signed Contracts: 145; Road Miles Serviced: 800; Pounds of Solid Waste Collected: 72,575; Pounds of Recyclables Collected: 18,600 pounds.” There is a State program called Adopt-a-Highway that includes Talbot and Kent counties (a few signs are evident) but when I asked about local government involvement in Talbot I was told there was none.

Many of us have been involved in pickup litter efforts. I am always amazed at how much is picked up and how quickly litter begins to show up along those same rights-of-way. Can you imagine our museums with their exhibits of the images we value allowing litter to despoil the galleries?

And I am convinced litter begets litter. Threatening signs don’t seem to curb littering—what about clear evidence that our neighbors value the natural beauty that has drawn many of us to the Eastern Shore. I think it would have persuasive effect.

As 2019 begins and a new county council and commissioners take office in Kent and Talbot County, please add an active litter program to the priorities. I feel confident that a mix of public and private initiative can allow natural beauty the showcase it has chosen.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Letters to Editor

  1. At a recent visit to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago I was surprised to be asked if I wanted a bag for my purchase. I did. It cost $.07. My daughter who lives there remarked: “Welcome to the city.” Just a little nudge might make a lot more of us bring our own bags and thus we might have fewer on the highways and byways.
    Anyone who has walked a non-resort beach on any of the islands in the Caribbean will tell you that the level of plastic litter is amazing.
    Maybe it is time to apply some market forces to our plastic pollution problem.

  2. Dear Al,
    Thank you so much for writing this. We experience a huge amount of trash along the road to the boat dock here in Claiborne. Just last week, my husband and I with three of our grandkids, collected two large bags of trash, including a pair of shoes. But we know that come spring, more will be thrown there. It seems to be a never ending problem. Disgraceful.

  3. Craig Fuller says

    Thank you Al Sikes for this excellent reminder to keep our beautiful space litter-free.

    It reminds me of how hospitals discovered one little action could make a huge impact on the spread of infection…..they require everyone to wash their hands when entering and exiting rooms.

    My observation is that there are few people who just throw something out of their window. Most of the litter in our area blows out the back of trucks from the many fine service providers that drive through our neighborhoods. I’ve started making the point to anyone working at our house that eating is just fine, but put the trash in our trash container. In this way, the cups and styrofoam don’t get tossed into the back of a truck only to blow out along the road. Small steps are what we need to make a big difference.

  4. Richard Marks says

    Dear Al,
    Thanks for flagging this problem.
    I always assumed the Adopt-A-Highway Program was supported by our county government. Thanks for clarifying. As a cyclist, I too often observe litter in ditches on the back roads and wish I could stop and collect the trash. Unfortunately, that is difficult and unsafe.
    It’s hard to fathom why some people are so inconsiderate. Perhaps a good preventive measure is to adopt a modified Homeland Security saying, ‘If you see someone, say something’.

  5. Few would dare litter in Germany. Trash is an all-around bigger deal in Europe, and their culture reflects this common sense conclusion:
    Don’t litter!

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