Continuing the commonwealth’s battle against litter as the summer travel season winds down, Governor Tom Wolf highlighted agency efforts to clean up and cut down on this unsightly illegal activity.
“Through public education, enforcement, clean ups, and volunteering, the commonwealth is working tirelessly to beautify Pennsylvania,” Governor Wolf said. “We cannot keep our communities clean without the public’s help, and I call on everyone to take personal responsibility for ending this ugly practice.”
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) crews across the state have expanded their routine litter pickup operations and these enhanced cleanups will continue through Labor Day. Cleanups are occurring on higher-traffic roadways where volunteer groups cannot safely pick up litter. Motorists are reminded to slow down, drive with caution, be alert for stopped or slow-moving vehicles, and watch for workers near the roadway, along interchanges and entrance/exit ramps.
PennDOT spends roughly $14 million annually on statewide litter efforts. Department programs such as Adopt-A-Highway and Sponsor-A-Highway allow groups and businesses to volunteer to adopt or pay to sponsor cleanup and beautification on roadways across the state.
“Every dollar we have to spend on litter cleanup is a dollar we cannot invest in our system,” PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian said. “We are grateful for the work of our crews and volunteers, though what we really need is an end to littering.”
The department also unveiled new anti-littering messages that will appear on its electronic message signs across the state through September 2. Appearing when active travel alerts are not displayed, the messages aim to appeal to travelers’ civic pride and address a finding of a 2019 statewide litter survey – cigarette butts were among the most common items found in the estimated 500 million pieces of litter on Pennsylvania roads.
To underscore littering as an illegal practice, this summer the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) initiated Operation Clean Sweep, a project reinforcing a zero-tolerance mindset with litter enforcement and sharing anti-litter messages throughout the year. The operation complements a 2018 state law allowing the designation of Litter Enforcement Corridors.
Litter Enforcement Corridors have a high aesthetic or historic value worth preserving or need some additional help with litter issues. Approved segments will be marked with signs to notify motorists of additional litter fines: doubled penalties for motorists caught scattering rubbish and tripled when it is done by a commercial business.
Local governments can help tackle litter in their communities by designating Litter Enforcement Corridors or working with PennDOT to identify potential state-owned corridors.
“The Pennsylvania State Police is committed to keeping Pennsylvania beautiful by enforcing the state’s litter laws,” said Colonel Robert Evanchick, commissioner of the PSP. “Littering is 100 percent preventable with fines beginning at $300. The public is encouraged to report any litter violation they witness by contacting their local law enforcement agency.”
Other state agencies and partners actively work on litter prevention and cleanups year-round and reiterated the harm of litter.
“Most litter along the road isn’t going to decompose in our lifetime. If you saw it today, you’re likely to see it again the next time you pass by, still leaching, breaking into microplastics, creating hazards for people and wildlife, and diminishing our communities and landscape,” said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “On top of this, litter cleanup is a big cost to state government and local communities, and ultimately all Pennsylvanians. Ending the littering habit will benefit everyone and everything that lives in Pennsylvania.”
DEP lists many ways Pennsylvanians can reduce litter and be a role model and is working with PennDOT, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, and community leaders statewide on developing a littering prevention campaign based on state research.
Additionally, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful urges Pennsylvania residents to participate in Pick Up Pennsylvania, in support of the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. This annual event – from September 1 through November 30 – is an opportunity to improve neighborhoods and Pennsylvania’s waterways by coordinating or participating in a litter cleanup. Registration is now open.
During this period, registered events can get free trash bags, gloves, and safety vests provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, PennDOT, and the Ocean Conservancy, as supplies last.
“Whether you are cleaning up a local waterway, your local park or the street that you live on – it all makes a difference in reducing the amount of litter reaching our oceans. We are honored to provide the resources and supplies needed to help volunteers improve our communities,” said Shannon Reiter, president of Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. “Picking up litter is something we can all do to support our communities. Please lend a hand and join us in a cleanup this fall.”
For more information on how the public can help with anti-littering efforts to keep our state highways clean see PennDOT’s Roadside Beautification webpage. Photos of department-force and volunteer cleanups, informational graphics, and videos from Wolf Administration officials discouraging litter are available in PennDOT’s Litter-Beautification Media Center.