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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tires, mattresses, bags of garbage. Memphis city leaders admit illegal dumping and littering is out of control.

It’s a problem you’ve brought to WREG’s attention countless times.

“It’s not fair to the neighbors that they have to live around that,” City Councilman Ford Canale said. “You can go to any neighborhood, you see it anywhere.”

Last year, according to the city’s 311 tracker, there were more than 2,000 complaints of roadside litter and 800 for illegal dumping.

That’s a huge increase since 2020 when Mayor Jim Strickland announced a new plan to tackle the trash problem.

Strickland launched the Public Service Corps. It’s litter pickup program that offers part-time work to teens, young adults and ex-offenders who need a job while working towards furthering their education.

“I think it’s like the Peace Corps with an educational requirement,” Strickland told WREG in January 2020.

His goal was to have hundreds in the program by this year.

But right now, there are only 18 people in the Public Service Corps, Strickland’s special assistant Ken Moody said.

“We’ve got to put the word out that this opportunity is there,” Moody said.

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Moody said the office is funded to hire 100 employees at a time, but the pandemic has made it harder to hire people.

“Yeah, we have a problem getting people. We are funded. The mayor has given us enough funding to hire 100 people, but we are having a challenge of reaching that number,” he said. “A lot of employers are having trouble hiring individuals.”

But despite those hiring challenges, Moody said the program is making progress in the city. From May through December 2020, the team picked up 9,000 bags of litter and almost 7,000 tires. Last year, it was 25,000 bags of litter and 15,000 tires.

He said if they were fully staffed, “we’d be able to respond to many blight issues and many tash issues we have.”

Cleanup efforts were recently brought to the city council’s attention, like an area off Covington Pike where Public Works said they filled up 50 dump trucks worth of debris. It took three days and cost the city more than $30,000.

They said they have placed barriers and are reviewing cameras in the area to catch the illegal dumpers.

In the meantime, Canale said he’s pushing to get the city more equipment and cameras in neighborhoods to capture people illegally dumping. He also wants to increase the punishment.

“For 5-7 cubic feet, which is a washing machine, that’s a Class C misdemeanor. I plan to go to our state reps and move that to at least a class B or class a misdemeanor,” Canale said. “Obviously these charges aren’t strong enough. We have to catch these people. We have to prosecute them. We have to let people know this is not okay. You are not going to treat our city this way.”

Canale says city and county leaders are asking the state to pitch in.

“It’s unacceptable,” Canale said.

He believes the trash on the side of the roads is a blatant sign that this problem must be addressed now.

Want to be part of the Public Service Corps?

Apply on the city’s website