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Cleaner Arkansas

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Woman walks 300 miles to bring attention to state's litter problem

The area's roadsides are a little cleaner thanks to Fayetteville resident Teresa Pelliccio.

Pelliccio is walking 300 miles picking up litter across northern Arkansas. Her mission is to not only beautify the state but bring attention to the state's pollution problem.

"I'm hoping to educate and inspire people to not pollute and to bring attention to the need to recycle," she said.

Pelliccio's journey began Oct. 1 on the St. Francis Bridge near Piggott and will end Oct. 15 in Siloam Springs near the Oklahoma border.

Pelliccio said she began worrying about pollution at a very young age. As she has gotten older, things haven't changed.

"I'm very connected to nature, and we need to take care of Mother Earth. We can't continue to abuse her and pollute our world," she said.

While driving down an Arkansas highway about five years ago,?Pelliccio, now a 44-year-old empty nester, observed the beauty of the region, but also the amount of trash on the ground. She became inspired and thought the walk would be a great way to bring awareness to the pollution problems; however, she had children living at home at the time and postponed her trip. Now, since her children have all moved out of the house, she thought this would be the perfect opportunity to embark on her journey.

Pelliccio began planning her trip in July. She and her boyfriend worked together to find a route that wasn't only beautiful but safe as well. She took off the entire month of September from her interior painting business to obtain sponsors and prepare. She lived off of her savings.

"Sometimes you just have to wing it and jump out there," she said.

The plan was to have two teams of two. One team, with one person with a trash bag and another with a recycle bag, would walk on one side of the highway while the other team would walk on the other side, Pelliccio said. Together the teams could clean up 20 miles of roadway in a 10 mile stretch.

The orange trash bags are tied up and left on the side of the highway for highway employees to pick up. The recyclable items are sorted at the end of the day and are then taken to local recycling centers, she said.

"Part of getting ready was finding where those recycling centers are," Pelliccio said.

The first day has been the most successful day to date, Pelliccio said. She and others cleaned up a total of 24 miles of litter; however, the number of volunteers has dwindled. Hardy resident Margaret Harness walked with Pelliccio periodically each day she was in the area; but, for a short time on one day Pelliccio walked alone. Although she said it would be nice to have more volunteers, she said she is proud of what her walk has accomplished so far.

"My big thing is 'what can one person do,'" she said. "Everything we do brings greater awareness and greater success. Raising awareness is key, not the number of miles."

The most common items she sees are cigarette butts, but because they are too numerous, they aren't picked up. Cigarette butts aren't biodegradable like some people may think. They contain fiberglass. The butts enter he water systems causing pollution, Pelliccio said.

The most frequent items collected are aluminum cans, plastic bottles, cigarette packaging and 32 ounce plastic or styrofoam cups, she said.

"We encounter different things in different areas," Pelliccio said, adding that in one area the roadsides contained several plastic bottles of Popov Vodka.

She has found the top of a porcelain stove, clothing, a life jacket, pillows, ice chests and tires. She has also learned there are many brands of cigarettes that she didn't know about. James DeVito, Pelliccio's boyfriend even found a $5 bill while ridding the roadsides of unwanted trash.

While Pelliccio says she hopes her walk makes litter bugs think twice before throwing trash out the window, she also hopes they realize the importance of recycling.

"People do what they've always done, but sometimes you hear something different and realize the need for change and do so. That's what I'm hoping will happen," she said.

"The recycling bag fills up just as fast as the litter bag does," she said. "It costs us money. It's like driving down the road and throwing dollar bills out the window."

According to Pelliccio, the average American has 4.5 pounds of waste per day. In Arkansas, that figure is much higher, 9.6 pounds. It costs more than $3 million a year to cleanup the roadsides, she said. Landfills are filling up, and the cost of items are increasing because new products are having to be made rather than making them of recycled products.

While awareness is her reason behind her walk, Pelliccio said she is enjoying every step of it even with the higher than normal temperatures. While picking up trash, she has a chance to experience nature. She observed her first Easter Hog Nose Snake during her walk along with a group of small frogs, she said.

"There's just different creatures in different areas," she said.

Pelliccio has taken photographs of nature during her trip. Once she returns home she plans to make a pictorial to put on her blog.

Pelliccio's trip can be followed through her daily blog on the Internet: loveplanetearth.blogspot.com.

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