From the looks of the statistics, quite a few Pennsylvanians regard their state as a 46,000-square-mile trash bin.
When tens of thousands of volunteers fan out each year for the Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania, they don't just find a stray candy wrapper or beer can here and there. They find carpeting, furniture, TVs, construction debris, even discarded hot tubs and swimming pool covers, said Michelle Dunn, program coordinator for Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which spends nearly $11 million per year having its own crews pick up garbage along state roads, recently lauded the efforts of 141,000 volunteers who took part in the Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania, from March through May.
"The department is very thankful for the thousands of people who turned out this year to beautify Pennsylvania," Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said. "Pennsylvania is fortunate to have so many people who want to keep this state beautiful and combat the actions of litterbugs out there."
Beneath the congratulatory tone of the department's statement were some numbers that Pennsylvanians who know how to hit a garbage can might find shameful. Volunteers picked up 6.7 million pounds of trash along more than 12,500 miles of roads, bringing the program's three-year total to 25.9 million pounds.
"We would hope that travelers would have a little more pride in the appearance of Pennsylvania," PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters said of the numbers. Litter can be more than an eyesore, she noted. Debris can be dangerous to traffic and can clog up drainage systems, causing flooding.
Seven thousand groups take part in PennDOT's Adopt-a-Highway program, with their participation noted on signs placed by their adopted stretch of road. Groups must agree to maintain a 2-mile stretch unless the litter volume justifies a smaller pickup area, and they must do four cleanups per year for at least two years.
Groups in the program have adopted 16,110 roadway miles, nearly 15 percent of the state and local road mileage in Pennsylvania. PennDOT provides free gloves, trash bags and safety vests for Adopt-A-Highway and Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania groups.
Ms. Dunn and Ms. Waters said there are some indications the situation is improving. Ms. Dunn said fewer appliances are found discarded, possibly because of their scrap value. The amounts collected have fallen from the program's record of 12 million pounds in 2010, and the average volunteer picked up 48 pounds this year, down from 65 pounds two years ago.
"That being said, 6.7 million pounds is a lot," Ms. Waters said.