Pa.’s litter problem | The Numbers Racket

Pennsylvania roadways are covered by approximately 502.5 million pieces of litter, the litter research study found

By: - April 25, 2022 6:30 am

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Take a drive on any of Pennsylvania’s criss-crossing and winding roadways and you’ll undoubtedly see plastic bags, fast food trash, car parts, and more along the side of the road.

The mess has gotten so bad, in fact, that 90 percent of respondents to a joint 2019 Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Transportation and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful survey reported that litter was a problem in the commonwealth. 

As part of the research, the partners – PennDOT, DEP and KPB – conducted a visible litter survey of 180 locations across the commonwealth. 

Here’s what they found: 

Pennsylvania roadways are covered by approximately 502.5 million pieces of litter, the litter research study found. 

Of the total estimated litter on roadways, the study found that 186.2 million (37.1 percent) pieces were cigarette butts. Another 152.9 million (30.4 percent) pieces of litter were plastic, most prevalently plastic film and plastic beverage containers, according to the study. 

Similarly, an estimated 29.3 million beverage containers and 12.3 million fast food items are currently littered on roads across the commonwealth.

Whether it’s small or large items being littered, motorists and pedestrians are the leading source of litter, the study found.

Rural and Urban Roadway

Statewide, local roadways had the highest percentage of total litter items at 34.9 percent. 

The study found that rural roads had less litter items (1,635) per mile than urban roads (2,585).

Motorists contributed the most litter to interstate roadways (69.7 percent). Improperly secured loads contributed more to interstates (11.3 percent) than to any other roadway type.

Pedestrians, however, contributed the most to local roadways (32.9 percent).

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.

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