Bottles, food wrappers, cigarette butts, etc. will eventually need to be thrown in the trash.
Unfortunately, many of them have fallen by the wayside.
In 2018, state officials, contractors and volunteers picked up £6.8m of roadside trash. This figure rose to over £10 million the following year. Garbage collection will reach a record £13 million in 2021 after the pandemic paused with the 2020 cleanup. A WRAL study found that litter is more than just an eyesore.
“In some ways, it’s uncomfortable,” said Zach Owens, a volunteer who cleans up other people’s trash.
“It’s like the ’70s are happening again,” said another volunteer, Susannah Nagley.
Josh Nolping says he’s fed up with “why do you live on this planet and want to neglect the area you want to call home?”
Brightly dressed volunteers are working to change that mindset. Led by Preston Ross, they’re doing their part.
“We try to clean up every weekend,” said Ross, who started the Raleigh cleanup.
The mission has evolved into a non-profit that attracts nearly 700 volunteers who have picked up over 85,000 pounds of litter in two years.
“Any small impact we can do to help clean up feels good,” Owens said of his volunteer experience.
David Harris, an environmental engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, oversees the state’s roadsides, from wildflowers to waste.
“I think there’s a mindset, and when we didn’t pick it up in 2020, we saw more people just throwing out the trash,” Harris said of the current trend. .
Another big part of the problem is trucks carrying all kinds of debris. Some trucks are spewing trash from unsecured loads.
“I hope people spend as much time as they do on other social issues and don’t litter or make sure their luggage is safe,” Harris said.
Harris expects the state to spend nearly $22 million this year recovering things it shouldn’t have. All the money that would otherwise be spent on repairing roads and bridges.
Aside from volunteer efforts, the state also has a relatively new Sponsor-a-Highway program, in which businesses hire contractors to remove trash in exchange for roadside advertising.
Johnson Automotive took advantage of the first-come, first-served offer by spending millions of dollars annually to purchase nearly 1,000 miles of cleanup territory. Head down Interstate 40 from the Triangle and you’ll see blue signs everywhere.
Outside of public service campaigns, states spend most of their time and money on pickup, not prevention. More than 4,000 people have reported violators to the state’s Swat-A-Litterbug program so far this year, but suspected violators only receive a warning letter in the mail.
“I think law enforcement is one of the issues that we’ve always struggled with,” says Harris.
At a time when so many are divided, the disgust of roadside trash is one of the few voices that unites.
“People just want to live in a clean city. We know the rest. Let’s clean up the trash,” Ross said of his group’s thinking.
The most obvious and hardest solution to achieve is to change this mess-causing sloppy behavior.
“It doesn’t take a lot of effort to put it in its place,” Owens said.
Wake County used a consumer app to gather data on the most common roadside litter. Anyone who thinks popping cigarette butts is a big deal is mistaken. Bottles and food wrappers were the most common trash found.