It wouldn’t make much sense to buy beer for alcoholics in an effort to reduce alcoholism. So why is the state using tax dollars to mail garbage to suspected litterers?
That’s the nature of the state Department of Transportation’s “Swat-a-Litterbug” program. The program features a hotline for citizens to report on incidents of littering along the state’s roads and highways. Callers submit the date, location and license plate number of the offending vehicle.
In response, DOT sends a letter to the person to whom the car is registered. The letter does not include a fine, but rather a description of the fines you could receive if an officer had observed the littering, along with some urging to “set a good example for others by not littering.” Also included is a plastic bag urging you to “stop the littering.”
As one would expect, the accuracy of people remembering the license plate number of a speeding car that supposedly tossed trash out the window is likely quite low. Indeed, the form letter from DOT includes an apology in the event there was an error in recording the license plate number and the letter was sent out in error. It is safe to assume that a sizeable percentage of these letters and bags are sent to the incorrect person.
The Roadside Environmental Unit received $2.2 million in funding in this year’s budget.
More specifically, according to an Office of Beautification report, “the materials used in the mailings cost approximately $5,400 in 2013. The number of Swat-A-Litterbug letters mailed in each of the last three years is as follows: 10,503 in 2013, 10,385 in 2012, and 11,217 in 2011.”
The dollar amount of the materials may be small, but we also must consider the labor hours needed to mail out more than 10,000 of these letters and bags a year, not to mention someone to manage the “snitch on a litterer” hotline and process the paperwork.
Nobody here is saying that litter is okay, but this does beg a question: What does the DOT think people do with the 10,000 plastic bags they’ve mailed out to suspected litterers – except cause more litter?
Moreover, is there no better investment of time and resources for the state’s DOT? Are these the kind of activities government funds when its budget is “cut to the bone”?
In sum, a large share of these letters and bags are likely not even sent to the actual litterers, and the bags that are sent result in more litter themselves. For these reasons, the Swat-a-Litterbug program is this week’s Waste of the Week.