Thursday, 18 March 2021 18:24

REaCH Eco Club cleans up section of Richmond County road

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Students from Richmond Early College's Eco Club pick up trash along Wiregrass Road March 12. Students from Richmond Early College's Eco Club pick up trash along Wiregrass Road March 12. Richmond County Schools

HAMLET — More than a dozen students from Richmond Early College High School spent part of last Friday picking up roadside trash.


Fifteen of the 25 members of REaCH’s Eco Club collected five bags of garbage and several large pieces of cardboard along about a half-mile stretch of Wiregrass Road, according to Anna Sanford, science teacher and club advisor.

Sanford said the students came up with the idea and she picked the location partly due to its proximity through the woods to Richmond Community College.

“I noticed it was a dirty road … lots of trash,” she said. “It’s hard to find a clean one these days.

“Everything you could think of was out there,” Sanford added.

The students were very meticulous while cleaning: “The most minute piece of paper, they would pick it up.”

While cleaning up, Sanford said the group received several honks of appreciation for the efforts from passersby.

“I’m so glad I’ve got students who are very concerned about the environment,” she said.

The club was started two years ago by student Carolina Mendez, who was recently accepted to the Governor’s School.

“She’s very conservation-minded,” Sandford said of Mendez.

During the cleanup, Sanford said they also found many cans, which the club will save up and take to the scrap metal yard on Battley Dairy Road to recycle and “generate cash for the club.”

Sanford, who is in her first year as the club’s advisor and holds an Environmental Science degree, is no stranger to picking up roadside litter.

She and her husband walk along N.C. 38 near their home every Sunday around the intersection with Ghio Road and routinely collect at least two bags.

Aside from their efforts, Sanford said another consistency is the types of trash they see — mostly food bags and liquor bottles. They also find about 30 cigar wrappers each week and have found full discarded garbage bags.

She said they’ve also found a cellphone, a dollar bill, marbles and a pile of seashells.

While looking at satellite photos of their property several months ago, Sanford said she discovered a nearby illegal dumpsite full of tires, construction materials and mattresses.

“It’s so big you can see it from Google Earth,” she said. “It’s just awful.”

Sanford said she reported the site to Solid Waste Enforcement Officer Allen Hodges.

“I don’t know what’s changed,” Sanford said, wondering whether it’s because people are littering more or cleaning up less. But, as she’s noticed from her own routine, it doesn’t take long for the trash to pile up.

A day after von Drehle employees picked up trash in Cordova, Director of Operations Justin Dawkins — who is also a county commissioner — took a photo of new garbage on the road near the plant. 

“I don’t know what the solution for this problem is,” Sanford said, suggesting that volunteers could clean up once a month.

County Manager Bryan Land includes pick-up and citation statistics in his monthly report to the board, often referring to the problem as an epidemic.

According to Land, 622 bags and 16 tires were picked up from 20 roads by county staff and NCDOT workers in February, accounting for 6.6 tons of trash.

Roadside trash isn’t exclusive to Richmond County — it's an issue across the Tar Heel State.

The N.C. Department of Transportation reported this week that more than 2 million pound of trash have been picked up along state roads so far this year.

Last month, Rep. Ben Moss, R-Richmond, co-sponsored a bill in the N.C. House of Representatives, the Highway Cleanup Act of 2021, that would double fines for litterbugs.

The Eco Club plans to do more to keep the county clean next year when things “get a little more back to normal,” Sanford said.

They’ve even talked about participating in the state-sponsored Adopt-a-Highway program.

According to the program’s web page, NCDOT asks groups to commit to picking up trash along a two-mile stretch of a state-maintained road for at least four years.

The club will also be participating in the countywide Earth Day effort scheduled for next month, cleaning up Freeman Mill Road, starting at the intersection with N.C. 38 and working west toward the industrial park.

According to the county website, 255 volunteers and 23 groups have signed up for the event, and more than $2,300 has been raised through sponsorships to purchase supplies.

“Sometimes you get so caught up that you don’t look around and see that the environment is full of trash,” Sanford said. “I think the more attention we bring to this, the more it will help.”