As April is Earth Month, the Washington Department of Ecology is marking the occasion with an emphasis on keeping Washington litter free through the ‘Simple as That’ campaign.
The agency says that roadside litter affects road safety, the environment and the wellbeing of local communities.
They add that an estimated 26 million pounds of material still litter Washington’s roads every year.
Results from Ecology’s 2022 statewide litter study show there are 73,580 separate pieces of litter – or 1,579 pounds of trash – per mile per year on Washington’s interstate highways. Even on local roads, you can find 18,051 pieces of litter – 143 pounds – per mile per year.
Common materials include plastic film packaging, food wrappers, cigarette butts, and beverage containers, all of which are not biodegradable and can leach harmful chemicals into the environment.
Why do people do it? Ecology’s research identified “not having a trash bag in the car” as a top reason why people litter.
Each year, the Washington State Department of Transportation and Ecology spend more than $12 million combined to fund cleanup efforts. Pickup crews and volunteers collected more than 1,641 tons of garbage off state highways in 2022 alone, and that’s only a small fraction of waste that is tossed or blown out of a vehicle onto the road. Millions of pounds of litter are left behind.
The Washington State Patrol educates and enforces litter laws, with fines ranging from $103 to $5,000. The largest fines are for “lit debris” — primarily cigarettes — and items that can lead to collisions.
“Everyone has a role to play in protecting and preserving the natural beauty of Washington,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “Litter impacts our environment, wildlife, and public health and safety. Something as simple as throwing your trash away properly can make a big difference.”
Ecology’s “Simple As That” campaign is designed to reduce littering by changing the behaviors that cause it.
The campaign gives people simple tips to avoid littering and motivates them to talk to their friends and family about living litter free. It encourages Washingtonians to:
- Keep a litter bag in your car. Use a litter bag while traveling to keep your vehicle tidy and reduce the chances of littering accidentally when you open a door or window. When visiting parks and other recreation areas, bring a bag with you so it’s easy to pack out what you packed in.
- Hold on to trash from your travels until you reach your destination or a waste receptacle at a stop along the way. It may not seem like a big deal to toss the occasional bag or bottle on the ground, but those decisions add up to millions of pounds of litter (and millions of dollars of clean up) every year in Washington.
- Live litter free and help others do the same. Make sure your friends and family know how to live litter free and help them make better choices. When we all look out for each other, it makes a big difference for our state.