‘Just disrespectful’: COVID-19 pandemic is making South Carolina roads trashier

COVID-19 pandemic is making South Carolina roads trashier

CHARLESTON, S.C. — South Carolina’s roads are getting trashier because of COVID-19.

“It’s just disrespectful to the environment, you know?” driver Nick Smelko told Channel 9. “Take your trash and just keep it in your car and find a trash can at a rest stop or something.”

The pandemic is keeping inmate crews and volunteers from gathering to clean up highways, anti-litter group Palmetto Pride told The Post and Courier of Charleston.

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The problem is compounded by more people are going to drive-thrus for food and then tossing disposable containers out their vehicles, South Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Christy Hall said.

“We’re seeing an epidemic of litter all across the highways, and we can’t keep up with it,” Hall said.

The trash isn’t just ugly. It can clog drains and has cost the state money, Hall said.

The department hired contractors to pick up roadside litter for the first time, paying $668,000 for them to collect 544,000 pounds of trash, Hall said.

“With the pandemic happening, we don’t have the amount of labor that we had in past years to help clean it up,” said Brittany Harriot, SCDOT, told Channel 9. “So, it’s an influx of trash without the hands to help.”

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Palmetto Pride had 55,000 people volunteer to pick up litter in 2020, 15,000 fewer than an average year, said Sarah Lyles, the executive director of the group.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, jail and state prison crews haven’t been able to pick up litter, authorities said.

In 2019, about 220 prisoners cleaned more than 15,000 miles of state roads, most of them interstates, South Carolina Corrections Department spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said.

“I think a lot of people are now understanding how much of the highways we maintain,” Shain said.

Trash crews pick up garbage for first time in weeks in Charlotte-area neighborhoods