Study: Pa. roads average 1,030 litter items per mile

2282648_web1_vnd-modernTrash-111619 Trib Live – Pennsylvania state agencies are declaring war on litter.

On Wednesday, the agencies released the results of the first statewide study on litter — the cost of cleaning it up, public attitudes toward litter — and announced the formation of a working group to shift Pennsylvania’s strategy from cleanup to prevention.

“Pennsylvania has a littering problem that cleanup efforts alone can’t solve,” said Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “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.”

The study, conducted by Georgia-based consultants Burns & McDonnell and launched by a Pennsylvania Litter Summit held in November, found that there are an estimated 502 million pieces of litter on Pennsylvania’s roads.

The study, commissioned by DEP, PennDOT and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, conducted on-the-ground litter counts in 180 locations and a phone survey of 500 residents statewide.

Field research found that the most common litter items are cigarette butts (37%) and plastics (30%), with food packaging, bottles and bags being most prevalent. There are an estimated 29.3 million beverage containers alone on the roads, the study found. Motorists and pedestrians are the leading sources of litter, followed by improperly-secured truck loads.

The study also found that:

  • Local roads have an average of about 1,030 litter items per mile
  • About 83% of respondents said they see educational messaging focused on litter prevention only occasionally or rarely
  • About 76% said littering reduces property values, negatively affects tourism and business, raises taxes due to cleanup, ends up in waterways and is an environmental problem
  • About half of respondents said people litter because they don’t care or there’s no conveniently placed trash can

“Cleanup is not a sustainable strategy,” said Acting PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian, “and the enormous amount of resources committed to it mean less funding for other transportation uses, such as improving roads.”

PennDOT spends upwards of $13 million per year on staff and resources to pick up litter along state-owned roadways.

What’s more, Pennsylvania cities collectively spend more than $68 million annually on cleanup, education, enforcement and prevention efforts related to litter and illegal dumping, according to a related study of nine cities commissioned by Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful.

Eighty percent of costs go specifically to cleanup, with Pittsburgh spending nearly $3 million annually.

The three agencies said they will form a working group to use the research results as the basis for a plan to reduce littering in Pennsylvania.

“We now have data from the most comprehensive statewide litter research effort ever conducted in Pennsylvania,” McDonnell said. “DEP is committed to working with our partners to use it strategically to shift the state’s approach to litter prevention.”

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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