Pennsylvanians pride themselves on the beauty the state offers, by way of millions of acres of forest, rolling hills and, this time of year, gorgeous fall scenery.
But anyone who has driven the state’s roads to reach those destinations will have a tough time arguing with Gov. Tom Wolf.
“We have a litter problem,” Wolf said when announcing Pennsylvania’s first litter action plan, developed in concert with more than 100 stakeholders from state and local government, businesses, legislators, nonprofits and community organizations. “Litter is bad for the environment and our communities, it’s a drain on taxpayer dollars.”
According to a 2020 study commissioned by state officials working with nonprofit Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, PennDOT work crews spent more than $65 million between 2014-18 removing litter and debris from rights-of-way on state roadways. The ageny’s annual litter removal budget is roughly $14 million.
“That’s money that we could be using to rebuild bridges, help veterans or feed people,” said Shannon Reiter, a North Huntingdon resident and president of Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. “We’re just so thrilled that the governor and our state agency partners are taking seriously the issue of litter, the burden it places on communities, and looking to shift to a prevention strategy.”
The report identifies 16 recommendations to address. Among them:
• PennDOT, the Department of Community and Economic Development, and the Department of Environmental Protection will collaborate on an anti-litter campaign anticipated for spring 2022.
• DEP will work on rules to provide convenient and affordable access to waste disposal and recycling services in rural areas where they are not always economically feasible.
• As an add-on to their “Leave No Trace” program, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will update concession vendor agreements to try and minimize the use of straws and disposable utensils. Vendors will also be notified when composting is available at a state park.
• State police will continue with their “Operation Clean Sweep,” launched over the summer to reinforce a zero-tolerance attitude when it comes to litter enforcement.
• The Fish & Boat Commission will introduce pilot projects to encourage proper disposal of fishing line.
DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said the state could take a lesson from the thousands of volunteer litter clean-ups that take place across Pennsylvania each year.
“If we bring the same energy to litter prevention initiatives that thousands of volunteers have brought to cleaning up litter in their communities, we’ll turn a corner on Pennsylvania’s trash problem,” McDonnell said. “And we’ll gain the community and economic benefits of a healthier environment.”
In order to combat litter in urban areas, the plan proposes innovative solutions like Lancaster’s “Tiny Can Project,” where city officials installed miniature garbage cans every few houses on both sides of the street in three targeted areas. Residents with a “tiny can” outside their homes agreed to empty them on trash day along with their regular trash collection.
Stakeholders hope the plan can help address what Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful estimates is a half-billion pieces of litter scattered throughout the state.
“We recognize we need to change behavior, not just clean up the mess,” PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian said. “With this commonwealth Litter Action Plan, we’ve provided examples, resources, and calls to action so we can make some transformative change here in Pennsylvania.”
Read the full plan at DEP.pa.gov.