Maggie McMahon never littered herself, but also never considered it to be much of a problem — until she drove past the trash-strewn parking lot of a Greenwood business.
“To be completely honest, I will say for years that litter didn’t faze me. I’ve never personally littered, but it went right over my head, and to most people it does,” said McMahon, who on July 29 began her job as Greenwood County’s first litter prevention coordinator, a position being paid for mutually by city and county councils to address a problem that officials on both sides say has grown to unacceptable levels.
“Last year, I was driving by Walgreen’s to pick up some medicine and that little lot (near it) was vacant and just full of trash, and it was like, ‘Why doesn’t somebody clean that up?’” McMahon said. Soon after, Mayor Brandon Smith spoke at a Rotary meeting about the position and it inspired McMahon to act.
“The more that I’ve got into the role, I’ve learned so much about how long it takes a plastic bag to decompose, or how long it take a cigarette butt to decompose,” she said.
Originally from Darlington, McMahon’s husband, Matthew, is a math teacher and football coach at Emerald High School.
In April, the County Council voted to spend $50,000 in hospitality tax dollars to pay the position’s salary and benefits, while the City Council pledged $20,000 for operations such as office supplies, IT expenses and fuel.
McMahon has latitude in how to carry out the job but plans to focus heavily on early childhood intervention and education.
“Whether I’m in this job two years or 25 years, who knows, it needs to be something that works, that’s proven,” she said. “I really think the first year is going to be a huge learning curve because it’s never been done before.”
The post is critical to helping secure grants as well, as McMahon will spend much of her time compiling and organizing data from collections that can be used to request state and federal aid.
“Really, the whole purpose of the job is to kind of unify all those efforts that are going on in the community to clean up litter and to prevent litter and bring it under one umbrella. It’s one thing to clean up litter, but it’s another thing to prevent litter. We can sit here and clean it up all day long but unless we are educating and raising awareness to the public, we’re not doing a good job of trying to control our litter problem.”
There’s another important element of her plan as well: Instilling a sense of ownership in neighborhoods around the city and county.
“There’s a direct correlation between the pride people have in the community and the violence rate, so if we have a littered community, the message that is signaling is, ‘We have no pride for Greenwood County,’ and that’s kind of the same point violence stems from too,” McMahon said.