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New NCDOT app aims to shame litterers into keeping their trash to themselves

The new Swat-A-Litterbug app allows you to report people you see tossing garbage onto the roads.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If you’ve noticed more trash on the roads, it’s no coincidence. North Carolina's two big litter cleanup efforts were canceled last year due to the pandemic. 

Dozens of volunteer cleanup projects were also canceled or delayed. Now, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is launching a new app to spot and swat litterbugs.

The new Swat-A-Litterbug app allows you to report people you see tossing garbage onto the roads. NCDOT told WCNC Charlotte's Savannah Levins they’re trying to shame litterers into keeping their trash to themselves.

It's likely at some point you've seen littering first hand -- a person in the car in front of you flinging a fast food bag out of the window, someone tossing trash on the ground instead of in a trash can. 

“It is disheartening," Harris Kay, a communications officer with NCDOT, said. "But that's exactly why this tool exists.”

Kay is talking about their Swat-A-Litterbug app which allows people to report litterers on the roads. You can even upload a photo of their car. NCDOT then tracks down the offender and mails them a letter confirming they were spotted being a litterbug.

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The letter isn’t a citation, although fines for littering range from $250 to up to $2,000. It is a warning, though. A call-out courtesy of snail mail.

"It's a sort of public shaming tool," Kay said. "It allows them to know that people are watching them.”

And while public shaming isn’t exactly a common method for a government agency, Kay says in this case they’re desperate to get to the root of this growing problem.

“I think it really helps tackle litter at its source," Kay said. "While we can spend millions of dollars picking up litter while we can call on volunteers to go come across the state and help keep our roadways clean, the most effective way to deal with our litter problem is to just not have litter end up on the roadways in the first place.”

You might be surprised to learn just how much litter we’re talking about here.

“In 2021 alone, NC department of transportation crews, contractors and volunteers have picked up over 5.5 million pounds statewide," Kay said. "Of that number, over half a million pounds were picked up in Mecklenburg County alone. And that's just in the first four months of this year.”

Those are record-breaking numbers -- but not necessarily surprising given the pandemic’s cleanup setbacks.

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Kay said littered roads are more than just an eyesore, they negatively impact the tourism industry, contribute to pollution and environmental decline. Additionally, it takes your taxpayer dollars to clean it all up.

"This year, the department has spent over $6.2 million on litter cleanup," he said. "This is a staggering amount of money. And it's frankly a sad one when you really think about how much that money is and what it really could be going towards fixing potholes building bridges, but instead, it's being used to pick up garbage.”

If you want to take things into your own hands…you can join a volunteer cleanup crew, or help the DOT crack down on those trash tossers and litter launchers right from your phone.

Contact Savannah Levins at slevins@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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