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Program hopes to clean up with anti-litter merchandise
Pick Up Sales

Don't mess with Texas. The four-word, trademark slogan of the state's litter prevention program often doubles as a Lone Star statement of pride.

But the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) hopes Texans--and anyone else, for that matter--will make that statement even more loud and clear with an item from the new line of merchandise bearing the Don't mess with Texas logo.

In the name
"Don't mess with Texas" was stamped onto caps, t-shirts and coffee mugs that went on sale in December 2004. Those were the only three items available in January, and while logo-minded enthusiasts might envision coolers, koozies, umbrellas and countless other future trinkets bearing the brand, the agency is taking a cautious approach to sales, said Brenda Flores-Dollar, an information specialist with TxDOT's Travel Division.

"We're taking baby steps right now," she said. "We really didn't know how [sales] would go, so that's why there's only a limited number of products."

Merchandise is available online at www.dontmesswithtexas.org. Prices range from $8 to $16. Flores-Dollar said the logo has transcended its original purpose--discouraging litter.

"It's so popular for vendors across the state as just a slogan regarding state pride," she said.

"We're trying to get the word out about the official logo, and trying to take advantage of the true meaning of the slogan as it relates to litter prevention across the state."

Revenues from the sale of merchandise will add to the program's $2 million annual Don't mess with Texas budget. That $2 million is spent on awareness. The state spends an additional $35 million picking up litter each year.

"That [$2 million] goes to educate the public, whether it's outdoor ads, television or radio," she said.

Additionally, television stations have granted more than $120 million in free public service airtime to Don't mess with Texas since 1986, according to Flores-Dollar. All related television public service announcements are created by and star Texans.

The litter generation
The program helped cut roadside litter by 52 percent since 1995, Flores-Dollar said. Still, more than 1 billion pieces of litter accumulate annually.

So who does this littering? Originally, the ads were aimed at males age 18 to 34. That has changed, however, according to Jill Burpo of Tuerff-Davis Enviromedia, an Austin-based firm that studied litter for TxDOT in 1995 and 2001.

"What we have found is the majority of the litter is coming from males and females, age 16 to 24," she said. "We call them Generation Litterer, or Gen L."

In the study, 125 sections, in 1,500-foot stretches of highway, are targeted throughout the state. Crews walk the section, clearing it of litter. Then researchers allow the sections to collect new litter for four to eight weeks. Crews then clean the section again and separate, weigh and measure the trash.

"The purpose of the visible litter study is to quantify how much litter collects on Texas highways and to find the most common litter items," Burpo said.

Tuerff-Davis conducts a second study--Litter Attitudes and Behaviors--via telephone with more than 1,200 Texas residents. It helps determine the most common litter items, she said.

"We ask them questions regarding awareness of Don't mess with Texas, as well as who admits to throwing out litter and what they throw out," Burpo said.

And the winner, or loser, depending upon how you look at the survey, is?

"Fast food," she said. "Twenty percent of it is fast food or fast food-related."

The firm started a new study in November 2004, covering the same stretches of road as the 2001 study. It will wrap up in July 2005.

Campus cleaning
The program's $2 million budget also funds other litter awareness programs, like the trash-clearing event Campus Cleanup, a new program held in March 2004. Seventeen colleges and universities across Texas participated in 2004, a target audience for the message, said Laura Rocco-Grove of Tuerff-Davis.

"Our main goal is to have college-aged Texans think about the effect of littering on their campus and in their lives," she said. "There's a big difference in attitude from high school to college, trying to find yourself and your individuality. We wanted to create an event that allowed them to come together and decide what and when to do it."

The University of Texas at Austin, St. Mary's University and West Texas A&M were among the 17 participating schools in 2004. Rocco-Grove hopes the number of participants will rise in 2005.

"Our hope is to have the same, if not more," she said. "We also felt it was important to have a wide range of schools, including little ones and big ones."

West Texas A&M in Canyon was honored as the most successful of the Campus Cleanup schools. More than 180 students turned out on a Saturday to make their appointed pickup rounds, a remarkable feat considering the event was held on a weekend, project organizer Skip Chisum said.

"The turnout was very good because picking up trash isn't everyone's favorite thing to do on a Saturday morning," Chisum said. "The turnout was really amazing considering it was the Saturday right after spring break."

To help get students involved, Chisum said door prizes were offered to student organizations and individuals in hopes of fostering some campus pride and cleanup participation.

Students completed surveys that measured attitudes about litter, and West Texas A&M students filled 19 30-gallon trash bags during the day, the most of any of the participating campuses, Chisum said. That was a bit of a surprise, he said.

"We're a pretty clean campus to begin with, so I figured there'd just be a lot of cigarette butts, which there were," Chisum said.

In 2005, the Campus Cleanup won't be on one day. Cleanup efforts at individual schools can take place anytime during March. March is already a busy month on the West Texas A&M campus, Chisum said, so the 2005 cleanup will take place on Tuesday, March 29 and will likely extend out into the surrounding community.

"March is a tough month with events on weekends throughout the month," he said. "Everyone should be around on the 29th, though. We're also going to look at going off campus to one location, perhaps a local park, to have kids do some cleanup over there."

The Campus Cleanup program provides materials for cleanup day, such as litter bags, bumper stickers and t-shirts for the participants, and handles the promotional side of the event with local media outlets. In the end, Rocco-Grove said the goal is making litter prevention a matter of pride.

"The biggest thing we give them is the Don't mess with Texas brand and logo and what goes behind that," she said. "It's that kind of tenacious Texas spirit of Don't mess with Texas, and they make it work best for them."

Clint Shields