The Ocean City Green Team and countless partners committed to a strong, multi-faceted anti-littering campaign during a roundtable discussion Wednesday afternoon. The ambitious yet paramount initiative is set to hit the streets in the spring, ahead of the summer rush. Town officials along with leaders of numerous organizations all share one common goal: keeping Ocean City clean.
For several years, Ocean City has faced a growing trash problem, but it reached a fever pitch last summer. With increased carryout operations resulting in an abundance of Styrofoam and plastic, the horrendous sight of trash lined far too many streets of the resort town. Not only did this upset town leaders and community organizers, but it angered hundreds of ordinary citizens, many of whom reached out via email to City Hall. While there is no way to instantly solve this issue, there is a clear path to begin. Leaders must create a resounding anti-pollution message that spreads across and beyond Ocean City.
Does ‘Every Litter Bit Hurts’ Sound Familiar?
For those growing up in the 1960s, the answer to that question should be yes. When contemporary conservation efforts in the United States began, slogans had a profound impact, especially on children. Commercials from the organization, Keep America Beautiful, ran on television sets across the nation and stuck with millions of people. This particular slogan dates back to 1964 and the advocacy efforts of Lady Bird Johnson. Another popular campaign of the era, featuring actor Iron Eyes Cody, proclaimed, “Get involved now. Pollution hurts all of us.”
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan kicked off the anti-littering meeting by describing many of these campaigns from his childhood and how they became so deeply ingrained in society. “Back in the 60s and 70s, this country had a litter problem. It all started really when the interstate highway system started,” he explained. “There were billboards with slogans, and they made a lasting impression on people because they realized that we were destroying the beautiful countryside. It made a difference and became infectious. I remember this same slogan from decades ago, and it will certainly have an impact.”
Meehan suggests that Ocean City should adopt many of the same techniques and take the messages everywhere, but specifically to kids. He believes that the youngest generation is influenced the fastest and will carry the message forward.
Developing a Strong Marketing Plan
To ensure the initiative’s success, town officials and their partners hope to put together strong trademarks that will stick with people for years to come. Jenna Knight, Marketing Coordinator for the Town of Ocean City, put together various sample social media posts and outreach plans ahead of the Green Team meeting. Through digital engagement, Knight aims to reach not only those living on the shore, but also those across the bay bridge and potentially, around the nation.
She noted that while it is imperative to be direct in advocating for cleaner streets, it is also necessary to make people recognize the harm they are doing to the environment by leaving their trash behind. With slogans such as “Nobody likes a trashy sunrise,” people will certainly be forced to stop and think hard about their actions.
Town Environmental Engineer Gail Blazer added, “If we really get this campaign right in people’s faces and make it known everywhere that Ocean City is a litter-free zone, we can be successful.”
Knight and the marketing team hope to place messages on billboards along Route 50, inside the 2021 vacation guide, and even directly on trash receptacles. Once the project moves full steam ahead, promotional videos featuring Mayor Meehan will hit the internet. The website domain OceanCity.green may also be adopted.
To completely attack the problem of littering, everyone will have to take action. However, it all starts with residents and tourists. “We must emphasize that this is really about personal responsibility,” said Knight. “We cannot focus solely on what we as town officials can do. Everyone must do their part.”
Bringing Together Community Partners
Spearheaded by Green Team chairman and Council Secretary Tony DeLuca, the roundtable discussion brought together several local groups. The Downtown Association, HMRA, Surf Club, Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Public Works, Maintenance, and Police Department, were just some of the teams represented at the meeting. Students from Stephen Decatur High School were even in attendance, offering a youth perspective.
Aside from public advertising, these groups plan to work together on organizing community street cleanups. Sandi Smith of the Coastal Bays Program mentioned that interest is high right now for opportunities to make a difference in the environment. Even though community cleanups have always taken place, the formation of this large group will merge efforts. Partners also suggested creating an open online forum where everyone can identify trash hotspots and record where they have gone to clean up.
With so much progress on the horizon, there must be a way to track the results and compliance. Kathy Phillips, a Coastkeeper on Assateague Island, proposed the creation of a central database. “It’s important that we have lots of monitoring and tracking. That is going to have to be something behind the scenes, where we are keeping track of citations that have been issued, whether it’s a warning handed out or a real fine,” she said. “We also need to keep track of the places we are continuing to clean up. The public needs to be informed that there is an ordinance, and we are getting serious.” Phillips also talked about distributing brochures when people receive warnings.
Police enforcement is another key component of the initiative. If the public will face fines, they must be aware of the rules, especially that littering is a municipal infraction. Elkton Harmon of the Ocean City Police Department explained that he hopes to see compliance, not a wave of citations. “Our enforcement needs to be more proactive. However, we want to see people following this ordinance,” explained Harmon. “It is not our goal to just go around citing people. This is the same thing that we see with speeding. We only catch 5% of speeders, but that is only stopping a tiny amount of people from actually speeding. Writing them tickets does not solve the problem. Compliance solves the problem. That’s what we hope to see here.”
Finally, many people proposed adding trash receptacles and more trash pickup times. The team also mentioned the shocking cleanliness of Disneyworld and accredited its success to an overwhelming presence of trashcans in every direction you turn.
The proposed project will not require any specific action from the Mayor and City Council unless it concerns budgeting. However, Mayor Meehan assured the group that they will have his full support financially. “This is not where we can cut the budget by reducing the number of cans or stopping the number of daily pickups on the boardwalk,” said Meehan. “We need to support these city departments and their efforts. We must be part of the solution.”
Cigarette Butt Huts
This is not the first attempt by the Town of Ocean City to tackle the problem. Over the past few years, the town installed cigarette butt huts in various spots as part of a source reduction program. The response was so overwhelming that the butts were recycled and turned into benches. Green Team members discussed this success but noted that the only way to truly end littering is to go after all types of trash in every corner of the town.
For the full upcoming meeting schedule for the Town of Ocean City, click here.
To get involved, click here.
Summer Flashback: READ – Four Benches Made from Recycled Cigarette Butts Installed in Ocean City