Study: Reading spends $1M+ annually on litter cleanup


69News – HARRISBURG, Pa. – Putting trash in its proper place could help Reading boost its bottom line.

A study commissioned by Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful found that nine of Pennsylvania’s cities spend more than $68 million each year on efforts to address littering and illegal trash dumping.

Reading’s annual total is more than $1 million, the study found. The city’s cleanup efforts include a weekly street-sweeping program.

Such cleanup represents 80% of the total cost for the nine cities, while only 13% is spent on preventative measures.

“Pennsylvania has a littering problem that cleanup efforts alone can’t solve,” Patrick McDonnell, the state’s secretary of environmental protection, said Wednesday. “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.”

Field research indicates there are more than 502 million pieces of litter on Pennsylvania’s roads, the most being cigarette butts (37%) and plastics (30%). Motorists and pedestrians, officials said, are the leading sources of that litter.

PennDOT said it spends upwards of $13 million each year on its efforts to remove litter from alongside state-owned roads and highways.

“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.”

As a result of the study, which also looked at Allentown, Altoona, Erie, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Scranton, officials said they are now prepared to shift the state’s approach to litter from cleanup to prevention.

“We’re seeing that even extensive and expensive cleanup efforts can’t keep pace with the amount of litter that’s accumulating,” said Shannon Reiter, president, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. “The only way to reduce this cost burden is to reduce littering through preventive measures, such as expanding solid waste and recycling infrastructure and developing effective school-based and consumer education.”

Stop Dumping on Berks flyer

One of the most high-profile prevention efforts in Reading has been led by Crime Alert Berks County, with its “Stop Dumping on Berks” campaign. The initiative offers a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest in case of littering or illegal trash dumping as a way of deterring the crime.

Anyone with information about such a crime can submit an anonymous tip to Crime Alert by sending a text to 847411, starting the message with keyword alertberks, or by calling 877-373-9913.

Wood-to-Wonderful has also been sponsoring its “CAN IT” (Clean a Neighborhood in Town) litter abatement program for the past 13 years. The initiative has placed more than 800 brightly-painted 55-gallon barrels throughout the city as a way of encouraging people not to litter.

In addition, the South of Penn community group has created a brief video that asks people not to litter.

The Pennsylvania Litter Research Study was conducted in 2018-19 with funding from PennDOT, the state Department of Environmental Protection, Keep America Beautiful, and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. It included on-the-ground litter counts in 180 locations across the state, a random telephone survey of 500 residents, and a forum where 120 community, business, and government leaders shared their views on litter impacts and what should be done to end littering.

“We now have data from the most comprehensive statewide litter research effort ever conducted in Pennsylvania,” McDonnell said.

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