Thursday, July 15, 2004

Litter pickup steals time, money from road repairs, study reports

By Dan Klepal
Enquirer staff writer

An Ohio Department of Transportation worker guides his spray-application truck along Interstate 75 near the Queensgate exit as he applies a chemical to kill foliage that often traps trash.
Motorists are dumping trash out their windows - everything from cigarette butts and auto parts to dirty diapers and containers of human waste - to the tune of 11,700 tons every year along Ohio's county roads, interstates, state and U.S. routes.

That's according to the first scientifically based study of roadside litter ever performed in Ohio.

The $100,000 study found that Hamilton County is behind only Franklin County in the number of bags of refuse collected last year. Cuyahoga County spent more money than Hamilton in picking up roadside trash, but collected 2,500 fewer bags of garbage.

"Basically we spend more time picking up trash than any other maintenance activity, besides snow and ice removal," said Lindsay Mendicino, a spokeswoman with the Ohio Department of Transportation, which participated in the study with the state's Department of Natural Resources. "For every highway worker picking up someone else's garbage, we are not making road repairs."

Ohio's litter study documents how much tax money was spent and how many bags of roadside litter were collected across the Buckeye State.

Franklin: $286,000, 65,000 bags
Cuyahoga: $210,000, 36,000 bags
Hamilton: $139,000, 38,500 bags
Warren: $58,000, 7,500 bags
Butler: $50,000, 6,600 bags
Clermont: $29,000, 6,000 bags
Source: Ohio Department of Natural Resources
ODOT Director Gordon Proctor said his department spends $2.3 million every year picking up roadside trash. And that doesn't include money spent by counties, cities and townships, or the huge number of volunteers who pick up waste.

"Litter along the highways has become an increasingly expensive issue," he said.

The idea of the study is to understand how large the problem is, then gauge how well programs aimed at recycling and litter prevention actually work, said Patricia Raynak, an administrator of research for the Department of Natural Resources.

"We had no objective, scientifically derived knowledge of what our situation is," Raynak said. "We had never even tried to estimate the total amount of trash along or roadways.

"Now, we'll be able to measure (anti-littering) programs in two or three years after implementing them to see if they're having a real impact."

To get a valid study, local municipalities worked closely with the state agencies. Fifty-six sites in 31 counties were picked for the study. Those sites were cleaned last August, then local officials had to "protect" the sites against cleaning or mowing until fall, when the trash was picked up and weighed. The sites were "protected" again over the winter, and officials then cleaned the sites again this spring, weighing all the debris found.

The study said dumping of containers of urine and feces "appears to be a growing problem on Ohio's roadways and interchanges."

Jeff Aluotto, manager of the Hamilton County Solid Waste District, said the study couldn't have come at a better time. The county is in the process of rewriting its plan for dealing with issues of recycling and litter control.

"The issues of litter and illegal dumping are a concern in all communities," Aluotto said. "We've not been too involved with litter because we've been focusing so much on recycling. But that could very well change."


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