Trash Or Treasure: Hot Circulars Leave Some Cold

MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) Imagine if someone finished their hamburger and fries, stuffed the wrappers back in the bag, and then tossed them on your lawn!

"Oh, that wrong! Very wrong!" said midtown resident Ashton Brock.

And he's right!

That's littering, and can net the offender a hefty fine under the city of Mobile's new litter law. But what if that same bag was stuffed with sales circulars?

"Same thing," says Brock. "No difference. Not a bit of difference whatever."

It happens in Mobile and surrounding cities, every week, sometimes, twice a week. They're tossed under the name "Bargain Finder" and "YES", and they're a product of the Mobile Press Register.

Some of you, like Mobile resident Jethro Thomas, welcome the pink and green plastic bags, eager to take advantage of the bargains inside.

"We look at the ads to check the stores out and stuff-the bargains."

But Brock, an avid walker, sees no treasure in the circulars, just trash.

"I've almost broke my neck slipping on them!" he said. "I've canceled the paper and I've asked them to stop throwing the ads. They keep coming, and I can't seem to reach anybody."

It's a frustration shared by many, as we discovered when we mentioned these deliveries on Local 15's Darwin Singleton's station Facebook page. The comments poured in, all but one negative.

"It gets old and I think it should be illegal for them to do that," said a poster named Glenn. "Throwing a paper is one thing, but throwing junk in my yard is another."

"It's an eyesore in our West Mobile neighborhood as well," said Linda, "& it needs to stop!"

"I pick them up and throw them in the can before coming into the house." responded Suzanne.

But not everyone picks them up, and that's gotten the attention of people at another address-city hall.

"I noticed these bargain finders sitting in yards, not being picked up on some of our litter pickup days," says District 5 City Councilman Joel Daves.

Daves has been a leader in the battle against litter in Mobile.

"Since I took office, I've received a number of comments from constituents, saying, 'look, I'm getting this thing'," he said. 'I don't want it, I've called the paper and they won't stop it, or they stop it for a while and it comes back. Can you do anything?!'"

Daves says the problem is even worse when it comes to houses where no one lives.

"We would go by abandoned houses and vacant lots, and they would be there, also. And so it just occurred to me that these were going places where there was no one to pick them up or someone didn't want them."

That's right. The circulars arrive at houses where there is no one there to pick them up. And they pile up. In the grass, on the sidewalk, and sometimes in the street, where they create another problem.

"And they were not only littering the city, but contributing to the storm water cleanup issues the city already had."

Daves is talking about the city's ongoing battle to keep litter out of the city's storm water drains, drains that empty into nearby creaks and rivers, and eventually into Mobile Bay. The need to meet state and federal environmental demands helped drive the council to beef up the city's litter laws and fines.

As of October 1st, it's $250 dollars plus court costs, per litter citation.

It applies to residents. But does it apply to these circulars? And can residents just say no?

It's an idea the city has presented to the Press Register's legal advisors.

"OK, how about, instead of having an opt out, we have an opt in?," says Daves "And they said they're not required to do that and their first amendment rights are such they don't have to do that. They have the right to throw that in your yard."

It's a common claim. So much so that many other cities have come up with methods their citizens can use to bar circulars from their yards and driveways. For instance, Philadelphia offers decals residents can display at their homes stating circulars are not wanted.

In New York City, the problem has become so bad the city is providing a sample sign residents can download, print and post. According to the New York Times, advertisers who violate the law face fines from $250 to $1,000. Here in Mobile, there is a phone number to call to opt out of such deliveries, but Daves isn't convinced it's effective.

Diane Irby, over City Planning and Development, said citizens worry they'll be held accountable for the circulars in their yard.

"And if they follow that process, they have a reasonable right to expect that they're going to be taken off and that is not going to accumulate in their yard," she said, "and it's not going to look like, well, I'm out of town, I'm an easy target for someone to break into my house. A lot of citizens feel like it's a safety issue for them."

As for Ashton Brock, he said he's so frustrated with the papers at his house, his next call may be to his attorney.

"I ought to have a right to stop it if I ask for it to be stopped."

So what does the Press Register have to say about the city's stance with these circulars? Local 15's Darwin Singleton called both the local offices of the Press Register, as listed on line, with a variety of results. Some of his calls were met with recordings, disconnection or some very pleasant people who said they'd find someone to get back to him. As of Thursday afternoon, that hasn't happened.

Darwin called the company's headquarters, Alabama Media Group in Birmingham, where he was disconnected. Then last Friday, Darwin e-mailed the company's president, but has yet to get a response.

There is a number you can call to request delivery of circulars be stopped at your house. It's 251-219-5343.

If you look forward to the circulars and the bargains inside, do nothing. It's more than likely they'll keep coming.
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