Statewide Initiative Aims to Reduce Littering, High Cleanup Costs

HARRISBURG – On Thursday the Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Transportation (PennDOT), in partnership with Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, announced an initiative to reduce littering.

In addition, the agencies presented results of the first statewide litter study in over 20 years at a meeting attended by more than 125 local government, legislative, business and community organization partners.

“Pennsylvania has a littering problem. Trash lines many of our roads and neighborhood streets. Hillsides and streambanks are strewn with tires and other garbage illegally dumped,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.

“This presents health hazards, it contaminates the soil and water and cleaning it up is costly to the Commonwealth and taxpayers.”

DEP has funded annual community and illegal dump site clean-ups around the state for over two decades. Thanks to these volunteer events, millions of pounds of litter have been removed from land and water, but trash is accumulating faster than anyone can keep up with, said McDonnell.

“DEP is committed to achieving an even greater impact, working with PennDOT, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful and other partners to develop and implement a framework of litter reduction measures that, for the first time, will be guided by state-specific litter data and a nationally recognized model of behavior change.”

The Pennsylvania Litter Research Study was conducted in 2018-19 with funding from DEP, PennDOT, Keep America Beautiful and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful.

A phone survey collected 500 residents’ views on litter and littering. Field teams performed on-the-ground litter counts in 180 locations statewide, including state and local roads and urban and rural areas.

Over 96 percent of survey respondents said littering is a problem in Pennsylvania. Field results indicate an estimated 500 million pieces of litter on Pennsylvania roads.

The most common items are cigarette butts and plastics, such as plastic food packaging, bottles and bags. Motorists and pedestrians are leading litterers, followed by improperly-secured truck loads.

“PennDOT spends upwards of $13.9 million yearly to pick up trash along state-owned roadways,” said PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards.

“This enormous amount of resources spent on clean-up means there’s less funding available for improving our roads and bridges. Clean-up is not a sustainable strategy.

“PennDOT is proud to join forces with DEP, DCNR and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful to take action to shift the focus to changing behavior to prevent littering.”

“Thankfully, environmental education programs and organized clean-ups help curtail littering at our 121 state parks, but illegal dumping remains a chronic problem in some state forests throughout the state,” said DCNR Deputy Secretary Michael Walsh.

“Managers of Michaux State Forest, in the south-central section of the state, are actively deploying surveillance cameras in an attempt to deter roadside dumping, which often leaves the district facing high disposal costs.”

City government leaders from Allentown, Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh detailed the high costs of addressing litter and illegal dumping in their cities.

Wayne Bowen, senior recycling program manager at the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center, discussed recycling infrastructure and markets in the commonwealth.

Anne Johnson, principal and vice president at Global Corporate Sustainability, demonstrated the economic, environmental and reputational costs of plastics.

California State University social psychologist Wesley Schultz presented his research on why people litter and a nationally-recognized five-step process for behavior change.

In an open discussion, meeting participants shared their views on priority areas and next steps in the development of a statewide framework for litter reduction.

DEP, PennDOT and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful will release a report presenting conclusions and complete data from the study and open discussion early in the new year. At that time the agencies will use the data to begin the task of strategizing a framework of measures to reduce specific littering behaviors.

“Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful has been leading clean-ups for nearly thirty years,” said Director Shannon Reiter. “While clean-ups are critical, clean-ups alone are not going to solve Pennsylvania’s litter and illegal dumping problem. We need to change behavior.”

The meeting was held at the Hilton Harrisburg and organized by Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, in coordination with DEP and PennDOT.

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