PA, fed up with litter, organizes for new attack

Bay Journal – Just how big is Pennsylvania’s littering problem?

Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter along Pennsylvania roadways and street curbs. The filters are made of plastic and may not decompose for a decade or more. (Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful)

Cigarette butts are the most common form of litter along Pennsylvania roadways and street curbs. The filters are made of plastic and may not decompose for a decade or more. (Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful)

At any given time, there are more than half a billion cigarette butts, plastic packaging from mostly fast-food restaurants, plastic bottles and sundry other items lying along the state’s 124,000 miles of roads.

That’s about 2,018 unwanted items for every mile of road, according to a first-ever statewide litter study released Wednesday by two state agencies and the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful nonprofit citizens group.

The study, which relied in part on people walking every inch of selected roadsides counting cigarette butts, concludes that litter in Pennsylvania is chronic and accelerating. It affects economic development, the environment, human health and quality of life ­— and cleanups are costing taxpayers a lot of money.

After a “litter summit” attended by 124 people from state and local governments, citizens groups and industries, the state Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Transportation and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful announced they would use the data as ammunition to launch a new statewide plan to combat litter.

“What we’re after is universal access. If you give people an opportunity to dispose of their waste properly, most people are going to do the right thing,” said Shannon Reiter, president of Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful.

Too many rural Pennsylvanians don’t have convenient community-run trash bins and many communities could do a better job of making recycling easier, she said.

“Pennsylvania has a littering problem that cleanup efforts alone can’t solve,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a press release. “Litter undercuts our quality of life and the health of our waters and soil. It shortchanges community improvements and economic development as funds that could otherwise be spent more productively instead go to trash cleanup.”

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