I have lived in Neptune Beach on-and-off for over a decade, and the garbage has always been here, though it seems to only get worse as time goes on. It’s a sight many of us are so accustomed to that we hardly notice it anymore, but the trash flowing through our waterways and lining our city’s streets won’t go away on its own.

Litter is bad news for everyone. It’s ugly and makes our town look like a place where no one cares, it has a negative impact on the environment and the wildlife that calls our beaches and parks home, and sometimes it smells pretty bad. Perhaps certain citizens of Neptune Beach don’t care, and maybe some of them even enjoy living in their own filth … but that isn’t the type of city I want to live in.

In an ideal world, no one would ever throw trash on the ground and the waterways would always be sparkling clean. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to completely stop people from littering — a habit which continues to baffle me, but there are ways to help regain some control over the situation.

2016-08-16 15.09.46

Some of the trash in Jarboe Park’s waterways.

As we near an election where we will choose a new mayor for this town, it is my hope that the future leader of Neptune Beach will be more effective and show a little more passion for what goes on within our city limits. There is so much more to running a town than implementing taxes and solving parking issues (and adding palm trees everywhere). Sure, parking, bike safety and police pensions are all important and absolutely need to be discussed, but we cannot neglect other things that might be considered “less important” by some people. When it comes to running a city, especially a small community like this, there are no unimportant issues. Keeping our community clean should be a priority for the new mayor, especially with the influx of tourism.

There may not be one easy fix for this type of problem, but there are many approaches that can be used to try and resolve it. Placing more trash cans in high-traffic areas, along with signs stating the fine for littering and a phone number to report litter would be a good start. In addition, some sort of task force could be organized to lead cleanups or education initiatives to teach the younger generations about the impact of littering. As a child growing up in South Florida in the 1990s, I was always taught about the importance of doing your part to take care of the planet. Littering was discouraged as a disgusting habit and litterbugs were seen as apathetic people with bad manners. Here it seems as though some adults missed those lessons, but it isn’t too late to reach out and break the cycle.

2016-08-16 15.11.54

Wildlife is directly impacted by litter, which can be mistaken for food and ingested.

Local organizations should be involved in this fight too, especially the groups that use the park frequently, like nearby schools, the teams using the tennis courts or the people involved in the Green Market. Beach cleanups are held regularly in Jacksonville Beach, usually put together by groups of volunteers and supported by local sponsors. There’s no reason we couldn’t encourage these groups to hold cleanups at Jarboe Park or other locations around the Neptune Beach area and beyond. In the end, it all comes down to having citizens who are sick of the way things are and are willing to step up and make changes. But the citizens need to be spurred to action by a good leader who has a plan. If any of the mayoral candidates have a solid environmental plan, now is the time for them to speak up and tell us what they aim to do for this city.