Local cleanup a focus as Earth Day arrives

By Greg Gelpi

While Earth Day comes around only once a year, Clayton College & State University Biology professor Michelle Furlong said that the ideals of the day should last more than just a day.

Sunday is observed as International Earth Day, and steps are being taken in the Southern Crescent to make a lasting environmental impression.

Groups in both Henry and Clayton counties are initiating programs to rid the streets of litter and other trash in efforts to increase property values and the quality of living, while decreasing crime.

The Henry County Chamber of Commerce initiated a cleaning campaign earlier this month, said Dottie Wise, the chairwoman of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce Preservation and Conservation Committee.

The Henry chamber contracted with the state Department of Transportation to adopt about 30 miles of state highways within the county and outside of city limits, Wise said. Eighteen organizations have agreed to clean up segments of state highway in efforts to keep the county clean.

As part of its contract with the state, the chamber is cleaning the highways four times a year and had its first campaign to clean earlier this month, she said.

"To be honest, I didn't realize how bad the problem was until I got out there," Wise said. "You don't realize how bad it is driving by."

McDonough Presbyterian Church, which adopted two miles, collected 84 bags of trash alone, she said.

"We really think that we can turn this into a huge thing," Wise said. "We need to continue to make a strong effort to continue to clean up the state highways."

Signs will be posted along the state highways bearing the names of the adoptive organizations in the coming weeks, which Wise hopes will aid as a deterrent.

The chamber is also looking to partner with the county in an effort to adopts roads other than state highways, Wise said.

The spirit of Earth Day will evolve into a two-year project in Clayton County, said Edie Yongue, director of Keep Clayton Beautiful. The project is an expansion of the group's annual cleaning campaign.

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners is working with Keep Clayton Beautiful on the Clean Sweep initiative, a program to cleanup all of Clayton County, Yongue said.

"To my knowledge this hasn't ever been done," she said. "I have never heard of anybody trying to clean up a whole county."

The initiative will organize volunteers in a coordinated neighborhood by neighborhood cleaning campaign.

"All of these things we're addressing are quality of life concerns, safety issues, health issues," Yongue said. "It's just time to clean up this place."

Volunteers are already signing up, she said, and plans call for the project to kickoff in April.

Furlong said certain types of waste, particularly chemical waste, can seep into the watershed and impact lakes and waterways. The issues raised by Earth Day are issues that should be addressed today and everyday.

"Make it a lifestyle change and not just for Earth Day," Furlong said.

The problem is "quite serious," she said, and solutions can be simple and should start at home.

"In my experience, recycling is just as easy as taking out the trash," Furlong said. "Even in Atlanta we've already run out of landfill space."

Everyone should get involved and become aware, she said.

Clayton State is considering a student proposal to expand its recycling program from paper to plastic and aluminum, Vice President of Student Life Kevin Rome said.