Roadside littering is a local problem

January 24, 2013

Now that all of the post-Christmas snow has melted, litter that has accumulated on Washington and Greene county roadsides is again exposed, starkly now against the brown and flattened grass.

We know who is responsible for this ugly mess – lazy and ignorant people with no regard for their environment. More difficult to know is who should take responsibility for cleaning it up.

Clearly, the state Department of Transportation needs to clear the medians and berms of interstate highways with its own crews or with others that it contracts, because this work can be dangerous. For highway interchanges and other state roads, PennDOT enlists volunteers through its Adopt a Highway program, but the number of groups that volunteer for this duty is too small, and there is no control over how well or often the litter is collected. Often, groups that volunteer to maintain a stretch of road lose interest or become discouraged when their hard work disappears under a fresh layer of discarded trash.

Most municipalities have no such program to keep their own roads clean. If Good Samaritans don’t come to the rescue, litter accumulates. Soon, it’s not just bottles, cans and bags from fast-food restaurants tossed from cars, but old tires, televisions and sofas. This is how illegal dumps are born.

We know that we can’t rely on the state to fix this problem; it’s too big. This must be fixed at the local level. Each municipality should have a program addressing litter within its boundaries, regardless of whether the roads are state or locally maintained. City and borough councils and township boards of supervisors are elected to address the needs of citizens, and the need to maintain a clean environment, in many places, is being ignored.

Local road crews may not have the time, manpower or incentive to pick up roadside trash themselves, but they certainly can pick up the bags of litter collected by volunteers. Too often, when residents take it upon themselves to clean up their neighborhood, these bags are not collected, are torn apart by animals and their contents scattered once again. Citizens need to know that if they make the effort to clear litter from roadways, their elected officials will support them.

If private citizens do not step up to organize litter-control programs, then supervisors and council members must. They must also pressure property owners to maintain their land in public view and keep it free of trash.

The signal that roadside litter sends is clear: This community does not care. Is that the message we want others to hear?



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