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WA Ecology Dept. finds tons of litter line state and local roads

A photograph shows roadside litter.
Via Flickr, Creative Commons/risingthermals

For the first time in two decades, the Washington Department of Ecology issued a report on how much trash lines the state's roadways.

The survey was conducted at 182 sites around Washington, including freeways, highways, on- and off-ramps, state and county parks, and recreation land.

The results show urban interstate highways have the worst trash situation.

“Well over 2,500 pounds — or over 100 thousand pieces of litter — per mile, per year on those interstate roadways," said Amber Smith-Jones, with the Department of Ecology.

Smith-Jones said even local roads in rural areas had 18,000 pieces of litter per mile, per year.

The weight of trash per mile has decreased slightly since the last litter survey 20 years ago. Despite the apparent improvement, Ecology spends $12 million per year to carry out roadside clean up.

The most common objects found this year included cigarette butts, food wrappers and glass bottles. And many objects, like construction debris, indicate part of the problem isn’t just trash tossed from cars, but unsecured loads on trucks.

The study also tried to determine who does the most littering.

“Our research found men ages 18 to 44 are most likely to be littering on our roadways," Smith-Jones said. "Both intentional, like throwing things out the window, and unintentional littering, like not properly securing your cargo.”

Those unsecured loads can also be a real danger. 300 traffic accidents, 30 injuries and five deaths were attributed to such loads last year.

Ecology is teaming up with the Washington State Patrol and the Department of Transportation for a major anti-littering campaign this month. One aspect will be a giveaway of litter bags for cars, available from grocery stores around the state.