You're driving down the highway or around your neighborhood behind a pickup truck. You see the driver throw an empty can or a wad of paper over their shoulder and into the truck bed. 

It's a familiar scene in South Carolina and it commonly leads to roadside trash. 

PalmettoPride Director Sarah Lyles has seen it all. And she's working on a solution.

Starting in February, PalmettoPride and Keep South Carolina Beautiful will purchase 5,000 mesh tarps with attached bungee cords and begin handing them out — for free.

They will begin in Berkeley County to coincide with the annual Francis Marion National Forest Cleanup.

Palmetto Pride, based in Columbia, is the state's anti-litter effort that oversees Keep South Carolina Beautiful, a state affiliate of Keep America Beautiful.

S.C. Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Matt Southern has seen for himself the dangers of roadside litter. The tarp campaign will be a successful educational tool, he said. 

"Anything that we can do to get the message out about keeping our roadways safe," Southern said. "Keeping our roads free of debris will make the roadway safer."

In a 2009 survey conducted by Keep America Beautiful, researchers determined that 20.9 percent of roadside litter comes from not properly securing truck or cargo loads. Though South Carolina has reduced litter by 62 percent over the past 10 years, litter projects have returned to the forefront. 

Lyles' office receives many calls regarding roadside litter, much of which comes from uncovered truck beds: cardboard boxes, Styrofoam containers, recliners, mattresses and bags of trash. 

The state code dictates that that no vehicle can be driven or moved on public highways unless it is constructed to prevent the load from escaping.

A "spilling load" ticket — given to drivers who do not secure large items, such as trash bags and mattresses — is between $230 and $250, Southern said. But if a driver has a lot of empty cans in their back of their pickup, chances are they, too, will fall out. 

Because of the roadside litter problem, the Orangeburg County Council is reviewing a new ordinance that would make illegal the transportation of uncovered loose material and waste.

Marie Canty has worked in the county's litter control office for four years and said roadside litter is a big problem. 

"Nobody covers their loads," Canty said. "Once we start enforcing (the proposed ordinance) and the word gets out, I do think it will help."

If Aiken County litter control officer Samuel Ford had to guess, he’d say about 90 percent of roadside litter comes from uncovered loads.

“It’s not just a problem Aiken County faces,” Ford said. “Every county in the state has the same issues.”

The county’s litter control officers plan educational events, including visiting elementary schools on Earth Day. He hopes Aiken drivers will start to consider the economic impact litter has on their county.

“Property values dwindle. Businesses don’t want to come. Unsightly tourism,” he said. “People don’t want to be labeled as a ‘trashy county.’ ”

Roads near coastal areas see a lot of Styrofoam cooler tops. The wind will lift up newspapers, paper and plastic bags. The dangers come when large, bulky or heavy items fall out. People have died when things like these hit the windshields of the cars behind them. 

A particularly distressing story unfolded in early August when a 16-year-old boy riding in the bed of a pickup truck in Seneca fell out of the truck and died from a head injury.

Lyles remembers a story about a female driver who toted a box spring in the back of her pickup. The box spring fell, broke apart and a piece got into her car and abruptly stopped the wheels from moving.

Adopt-a-Highway volunteers clean up the roads four times a year. The Departments of Transportation and Corrections are responsible for cleaning up the interstates. 

All counties are required to have a protocol in place for responding to solid waste, Lyles said. But not all counties have litter control or code enforcement programs. Every county is different in how they are allowed to enforce the litter laws and can be at the mercy of their administrations or judges as to whether the tickets get enforced. 

Lyles works with counties to develop more effective strategies to control litter. Aiken, Lee and Greenville counties have established their own local litter task forces to address prevention and pickup. Keep South Carolina Beautiful works with the 26 local Keep America Beautiful affiliates in the state.

Different parts of the state have their own issues.

"There's not a cookie-cutter program that's going to work everywhere," Lyles said.

In the coastal communities, there's tourism-related trash. A 2015 Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management study assessed the coastline's most common litter: discarded cigarette butts. In Myrtle Beach, when renters do not dispose of their trash, landlords often leave it on the side of the road outside the condo, Lyles said. In rural areas, household and construction-related items, such as shingles, are tossed outside. 

In Charleston, most of the complaints about litter come from the highways, in areas where there's a lot of development. The road work and traffic on Interstate 526 leaves no safe median or roadside space for cleanup crews to pick up litter. 

What is universal across the state's roads are uncovered pickup beds.

If your neighbor does not cover their truck bed, or if you notice an uncovered pickup at the gas station, speak up, Lyles said. 

"People will change based on peer pressure," she said. "We can work toward a cultural shift and hopefully change some of these negative behaviors that create a littered landscape." 

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Reach Hannah Alani at 843-937-5428. Follow her on Twitter @HannahAlani.

Hannah Alani is a reporter at The Post and Courier covering race, immigration and rural life across the Palmetto State. Before graduating from Indiana University and moving to Charleston in 2017, her byline appeared in The New York Times.

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