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LaGrange recognized for litter prevention

This week it was announced that the City of LaGrange received two second place awards from Keep Georgia Beautiful for the Leaving LaGrange Better Than We Found It program.

LaGrange received second in both the State Award, Litter Prevention-Government Agency category and the State Award, Overall Community Improvement-Government Agency category in the Keep Georgia Beautiful 2018 Awards Program. The award ceremony will be in Macon on Dec. 6.

“Getting the community to stop littering is a slow, educational process and we feel we’re making a dent in it one step at a time,” City Manager Meg Kelsey said. “I think it’s successful because we are joining the community with our city staff and youth council members — all pulling together for a common cause. At the end of the day, we are picking up litter in our community and helping our environment.”

The program began on April 20 of this year, when the city closed all non-essential business and  nearly 400 employees picked up trash in LaGrange. Since then, under the direction of Kelsey, the city has organized monthly litter cleanups where city employees and citizens have worked together to continue the program. That community engagement was critical to LaGrange’s recognition by Keep Georgia Beautiful.

“The Leaving LaGrange Better Than We Found It initiative was really all about engaging the community with litter pick up and awareness, and that was a huge component for these awards,” said Natalie Johnston-Russell, the executive director for Keep Georgia Beautiful.

Earlier this month, cleanup participants uncovered an illegal dumping site along East Beacon Street, which has since been cleaned up.

“[Programs like LLBTWFI] have a really big impact,” Johnston-Russell said. “Removing litter from the land today not only takes away an eyesore, but actually helps to improve quality of life for folks living in an area. It improves economic opportunities in an area, as well as health and safety in those areas that are targeted for cleanup, where the community gets involved and engaged in taking care of those parts of the state.”

Keep Troup Beautiful, which has partnered with the city on the cleanups, nominated the city for one of the awards.

“The efforts led by the city involve our local citizens as volunteers, so [the city’s] monthly cleanup projects actually get people involved — certainly not only city employees, but general citizens as well,” said Scott Landa, executive director of Keep Troup Beautiful. “That kind of involvement is always good. It emphasizes the need because people get out where the cleanup is happening and see the problem and help remedy it.”

Landa attributed a large part of the success of the program so far to the city’s efforts to let the community know how to become involved.

“The city has been great about publicizing the efforts and the need, so that helps to get the word out,” Landa said. “Hopefully [knowing about the cleanups] helps people to change habits and change the old ways of doing things — leaving trash around and litter.”

The city estimates that 24 tons of trash have been picked up through the cleanup. The lake side cleanup and the November cleanup both uncovered significantly more than that amount.

“I would love to see this continue,” Johnston-Russell said. “It has such great momentum from people all across LaGrange that have been involved with it. It is great to see that, starting with the mayor and the Troup County Commission and the city manager. I’d love to see it continuing to spread throughout the community. I think it is a great program that other cities can look to see what an inspired community is doing to improve.”

Landa is hopeful that the cleanup will continue to grow and make people in the community think about litter differently.

“I commend the city because they made a commitment earlier this year to fight the litter problem, and they’ve been keeping that commitment,” Landa said. “It wasn’t a one-time thing. It was a commitment to go from month to month all year long, and that is what it takes. We can’t do one cleanup and expect it to make a difference. We have to be diligent about going after it every day of the week.”

During the LaGrange City Council meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Jim Thornton acknowledged the hard work that has gone into LLBTWFI and the community’s passion for the project.

“Congratulations to all who have been working on this labor of love for the entire year,” Thornton said. “It is nice to be recognized for it.”

The next LLBTWFI cleanup is Dec. 1 at 8 a.m., and the group will meet in the LaGrange Academy parking lot at 1501 Vernon Road.

If you would like to have a litter clean up in your neighborhood, contact Scott Landa with Keep Troup Beautiful. For more information go to Keeptroupbeautiful.com or call (706) 884-9922.

***Updated attribution on a quote.