(QUEEN CITY NEWS) — It’s a trashy issue, leaving an eyesore on every corner: litter.

North Carolina had a record year for litter collection in 2021. NCDOT reports 13,103,445 pounds of trash were collected statewide, costing more than $19 million. Rowan County contributed about 257,000 pounds of litter to that total.

For those tasked with cleaning up the roadways, it can be a discouraging job.

“I wish people would recycle more. I wish people would just use the trash can at the convenience store rather than throw it out here at this intersection,” said Litter Mitigation Supervisor Lawrence Stephens, while picking up trash at the intersection of Woodleaf Road and Jake Alexander Boulevard.

Stephens has been picking up Rowan County’s trash for five years. It’s a job he loves, not just because he’s making a difference.

“The way trash is every day, you can come today and tomorrow it’s going to be just as bad. So, it’s just job security,” he laughed.

In March 2022, Rowan County collected nearly 19,000 pounds of litter. Stephens is one of two full-time employees tasked with cleaning up roadways.

Aside from increasing education initiatives, the county has also cracked down on issuing litter citations. They have a deputy whose sole job is solid waste enforcement.

“When the deputy finds an illegal dumping location, typically we can find who was the defender by going through the trash,” said Rowan County Solid Waste Director Caleb Sinclair.

In March, that deputy issued nine citations and found 20 illegal dumpsites.

While litter can impact public and environmental health by getting into storm drains and rivers, it can also impact people’s wallets.

“The aesthetic is very important because a clean aesthetic drives community development,” said Sinclair.

As hard as the cleanup crews fight, it’s a battle that can’t be won without everyone pitching in to do their part.