The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful released the results of the first statewide comprehensive research on litter, the cost of cleaning it up and attitudes toward litter and announced the formation of a state-led workgroup to shift Pennsylvania’s strategy from cleanup to prevention.
“Pennsylvania has a littering problem that cleanup efforts alone can’t solve,” said DEP 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.”
Field research results indicate more than 502 million pieces of litter on Pennsylvania’s roads. The most common items are cigarette butts (37 percent) and plastics (30 percent), with plastic film and beverage containers most prevalent. There are an estimated 29.3 million beverage containers alone on the roads. Motorists and pedestrians are leading sources of litter, followed by improperly secured truck loads.
Cities collectively spend over $68 million annually on cleanup, education, enforcement and prevention efforts related to litter and illegal dumping, according to a related study of nine cities statewide commissioned by Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. Eighty percent of costs go specifically to cleanup, with Philadelphia spending more than $36 million; Pittsburgh and Allentown spending more than $2 million; Harrisburg, Lancaster and Reading spending over $1 million; and Altoona, Erie and Scranton spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
PennDOT spends upwards of $13 million per year on staff and resources to pick up litter along state-owned roadways.
“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.”
The Pennsylvania Litter Research Study was conducted in 2018-2019 with funding from DEP, PennDOT, Keep America Beautiful, and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. It included on-the-ground litter counts in 180 locations statewide, a random phone 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,” said McDonnell. “DEP is committed to working with our partners to use it strategically to shift the state’s approach to litter prevention, so that Pennsylvanians may gain community, economic and environmental advantages they’re now sacrificing to litter cleanup.”
DEP, PennDOT and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful will form a workgroup of state government agencies, local governments and industry and community leaders to use the research results to develop and carry out a plan of actions to reduce littering in Pennsylvania.
The goal is to build the action plan around four behavior change strategies, including infrastructure, such as waste and recycling facilities and trash cans; public and school-based education; laws and ordinances; and incentives and enforcement.
Learn more about the state litter research results and littering reduction initiative at www.dep.pa.gov/litteringactionplan.