OCEAN CITY – It was all hands-on deck this week as community stakeholders joined a roundtable discussion on a proposed anti-litter campaign.
Last Wednesday, members of the Ocean City Coastal Resources Legislative Committee, or Green Team, teamed up with town staff and community stakeholders to begin developing an aggressive anti-littering campaign for the coming summer season.
The virtual meeting – which included representatives from town departments, environmental organizations, the hospitality industry and local schools, to name a few – focused on outreach, enforcement and recognition as part of a multi-faceted initiative tentatively called “Every Litter Bit Hurts.”
“We all know Ocean City is famous for two things … a clean and safe community,” Mayor Rick Meehan told attendees this week. “And we’ve been challenged on both ends in the last couple of years. I really think it’s something we have to work together to overcome.”
Last year, the Green Team began discussing the resort’s growing litter problem after a particularly troublesome summer season. Council Secretary Tony DeLuca, committee liaison, said the issue was raised after town officials started receiving emails about the amount of trash littering the Boardwalk and side streets.
“I’ve never seen so many complaints come from citizens ever about what’s going on, on the Boardwalk, on the side streets, on the trash,” he said.
Despite the efforts of the town’s public works department and beach and street cleanup programs, officials said the town continued to experience an extreme amount of trash last year.
DeLuca told attendees this week a lot of the blame was placed on the COVID-19 pandemic and the proliferation of carryout containers. He also pointed to broken trash cans on side streets, a lack of enforcement, and weeds that trapped litter.
To that end, the committee began exploring a recognition-based program that establishes the resort as a no-litter zone.
“We have to all really buy into this and take ownership of it and be part of the solution,” Meehan said, “And we have to encourage residents and visitors to do the same. That’s why I think the anti-litter campaign is exactly the right way to go.”
In Wednesday’s roundtable discussion, Marketing Coordinator Jenna Knight said the proposed campaign would focus on education, prevention and enforcement. Outreach efforts, she said, could include advertising, social media posts and a new website, which would highlight cleanup events and volunteer opportunities.
“I think pushing personal responsibility is super important,” she said. “This can’t be all on public works. This is a team effort.”
Several ideas, including the use of social media hashtags and trash can messaging, were pitched to the committee this week. Attendees also stressed the importance of highlighting virtual cleanup events for students and creating programs that allow condominium associations to adopt their blocks.
Kathy Phillips of Assateague Coastal Trust also suggested the police department’s parking and meter patrol unit monitor the litter issue. She also encouraged the town to strengthen its litter ordinance and increase its fines.
“Community engagement is important, but so is enforcement and data tracking,” she said.
Ocean City Police Department Capt. Elton Harmon agreed the agency needed to step up its enforcement efforts. Last year, the department issued a total of seven litter citations.
He noted, however, that compliance should be the campaign’s overarching goal.
“Just like a traffic ticket, if you think about that we catch maybe 4 or 5% of the speeders, well that doesn’t solve 95% of the problem …,” he said. “So compliance is really the goal, not citing. It’s got to, or it will fail.”
When asked if any of the proposed campaign initiatives would need to go before the Mayor and Council, Meehan said most of the ideas would only need the support of the Green Team.
“If it comes to something that has a budgeting component to it, that’s something that has to go back to the Mayor and Council,” he said.
Attendees this week also established a timeline for developing the campaign and seeking any grant or municipal funds ahead of the summer season.
“The ideas are great,” DeLuca said. “But we’ve got to make them happen and we’ve got to make them happen timely and seasonally.”