The state of Mississippi has literally thousands of volunteers who pick up trash on the side of roadways as part of the Adopt-a-Highway beautification plan.
One volunteer, Clark Huntley, decided not to stop with picking up the highway once as a volunteer. Instead, Huntley went on to found Litter Control, a business that provides litter pickup services for businesses across the state who participate in the Adopt-a-Highway program.
Huntley, who is finishing up a degree in sociology from Mississippi State University, currently has about 25 clients located primarily in northeast Mississippi, the Delta and Jackson. His business is bonded, an important consideration for businesses because of liability issues, and he hires other people to help with the job of picking up litter.
Businesses which adopt a highway often get employees to help with the beautification program. But enthusiasm can lag, especially during summers with record-breaking heat such as Mississippi is currently experiencing. “In today`s business world, employees have to do enough work for their employer,” Huntley said. “Getting them out there on the highway probably isn`t too bad for them at first. I think it is great that businesses do get the employees out there because once they get out there and pick it up, they are a whole lot less likely to litter. It seems like everybody who picks up comes back with a new attitude about litter. They see how stupid it is. But after a while, the businesses end up getting a whole lot less support from the employees.”
Huntley, who is an outdoor enthusiast, started Litter Control in 1992 after picking up trash as a volunteer for his college fraternity. He started calling local businesses and offering to do litter pickup for them.”I got out there in the middle of June,” Huntley said. “It was hot and humid, and there was a lot of garbage out there. I started out charging $25 per mile to pick it up, but soon realized that there was no way to make anything for that much.”
Huntley now charges $100 per mile. Since it takes 10 to 12 hours to pick up trash on a mile of roadway, it still isn`t great money. But it is the work Huntley enjoys. “I just really believe in this business,” he said. “I`ve been doing it a while. It`s up and down the road. It is a lot of hard work. But Mississippi is just too beautiful a place to get piled up with litter on the shoulders of the highway.”
Huntley found that one reason more businesses don`t participate in Adopt-a-Highway is that they felt the signs that advertise the business adopting the highway were not very eye catching. So he encouraged the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) to create more effective signs.
Starting in August a new Adopt-A-Highway logo and signs are available that can include business slogans. Huntley said the signs will allow businesses to get more advertising value out of the signs. He believes the cost of the Adopt-a-Highway signs compare favorably with other roadside advertising such as billboards.
Billboard signs can cost $800 per month while Huntley`s business provides the signs and four trash pickups per year at $100 per month for the first year. The sign is paid for after the first year, so the cost drops to $800 per year just for maintaining litter pickups on a two-mile section of roadway.
Shirley Rutland, state anti-litter coordinator for MDOT, said while Huntley isn`t the only person in Mississippi to provide litter pickup services to businesses through the Adopt-A- Highway program, his efforts have been appreciated.
“He has done an outstanding job in paying his way through college picking up litter for businesses,” Rutland said. “He appears to be very interested in preserving the state`s natural beauty and enhancing it through litter pickup, and I admire that. Anyone who does this kind of work knows it is a nasty job. It requires a lot of determination and perseverance. Our dealings with him have been very positive. I think what he is trying to do for the state is admirable.”
Huntley said he finds that litter bugs have habits. For example, he will find exactly the same combination of trash along certain sections of highway, suggesting a litterbug who consistently buys the same snacks and tosses them out the window at the same site.
Huntley said a lot of litter on the roadsides is unintentional, and blows out from the back of pickup trucks. That kind of litter doesn`t bother him. But evidence of people routinely littering just because they are too lazy to find a trash can does upset him.
“The Mississippi Department of Transportation is bending over backwards to try to get businesses to keep the litter off the highway because it looks really bad when people come into our state and see the highways are trashed,” Huntley said. “The main thing is we just want the litter off the highways, and we`ll work with a company and do whatever we can to get litter off the highways.”
Huntley had a happy ending to one piece of unintentional litter. He found a woman`s wedding ring on the side of the road, and was able to return it to its very appreciative owner.
For more information, Huntley can be reached at (601) 529-4975.