Chunks of sheetrock lay disintegrating along U.S. 278, shards of two-by-fours line the shoulders, and an abandoned plastic storage bin sits in the middle of the median strip.
Aluminum cans, cardboard boxes, fast food packaging and cigarette butts are among the trash scattered along the county’s roads, blowing into fields and yards, and down culverts into the stormwater drains.
Is this any way for the gateway to America’s No. 1 island to look?
Bluffton resident Randy Boehme doesn’t think so, and he has been doing something about it since he moved to Palmetto Bluff in 2015.
Soon after arriving, he had a conversation with Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka about the trash along May River Road.
At her prompting, he began picking up litter on his own, got more people to help, and organized a Keep Bluffton Beautiful road cleanup project.
Boehme said he created the program by collecting friends to voluntarily help clean up a two-mile stretch of May River Road near the Bluff.
He also spoke with Dave Wilhelm, who is currently the county deputy administrator. At the time Boehme was beginning his efforts, Wilhelm was in charge of the county’s solid waste and recycle department. He expanded the department and developed Keep Beaufort County Beautiful, affiliating it with Keep America Beautiful, Inc.
In 2019, Beaufort County won six out of eight awards given state-wide by PalmettoPride at the South Carolina Litter Conference.
One of those awards went to Boehme as the state Volunteer of the Year for his efforts in “creating and protecting a cleaner community and enhancing the beauty of South Carolina,” according to the citation.
Boehme was also named the Volunteer of the Year for Keep America Beautiful South Carolina in 2020.
PalmettoPride is the state’s nonprofit anti-litter and beautification organization. It was created by the legislature to fight litter and keep our state clean, green and beautiful.
Through numerous programs and events, PalmettoPride aims to educate the public on the impacts of litter to help prevent it, enforce the current litter laws, bring awareness to the issue, and encourage and groups to take ownership of their communities to pick up.
If there is any doubt there is too much trash on the highways and byways, the county reported in 2021 that 3,700 Adopt-A-Boat Landing and AAH volunteers removed 46 tons of county litter from the roadways, preventing it from reaching the county’s waterways. The year-end review also reported that the Beaufort County Litter Crew picked up 116,465 pounds and the SCDOT spring and fall cleanups picked up 3,810 pounds.
Boehme said more than 100,000 pounds were picked up by volunteers in 2022.
Initially there were 20 volunteer groups that formed the Adopt-a-Highway core. Boehme said that number has grown to 120 and the volunteers come from all over, representing clubs, churches, POAs, hospitals, the military, men, women, young, old, sororities and Masons.
Boehme not only collects litter, he prompts others to do the same by adopting highways or boat landings with their friends and neighbors. He considers himself an environmentalist, is a certified Clemson University Master Naturalist, and volunteers with Coastal Conservation League.
In addition to encouraging volunteers, Boehme’s goal is to increase education and enforcement.
There are county as well as state ordinances against littering, and in 2021, 58 citations were issued for littering, 44 were issued in 2022. Fines for littering or dumping garbage range from $25 to $1,000, and penalties include community service hours performing litter pickup.
As promising as some of the programs sound, and as successful as some have been, Boehme thinks it would be better to work on eliminating the enforcement aspect by focusing on education, reaching the school-aged children about what is solid waste recycling and what is litter.
“What are the ramifications of what we’re seeing here? What does it mean to the May River 10 years from now?” he questions. “They need to think about what it will look like in the future.”
Boehme said the continuous growth in Beaufort County is only going to add to the challenges of keeping up with trash and litter collection, let alone curbing the habit of a lifetime.
“My terminology is, ‘this is the spark that will light the fire that will burn forever.’ That’s how I have described it to people. But we’ve got to come together and do all this in tandem. Otherwise, it’s going to be very difficult,” said Boehme. “Then when we are successful, it’s going to be a great day, so that spark will burn bright and the Lowcountry is going to look a lot different.”
For more information on Adopt-a-Highway, visit beaufortcountysc.gov/solid-waste-and-recycle.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.