PUYALLUP, Wash. — After numerous complaints about trash along State Route 512, things are looking cleaner. Crews spent seven days over the course of two weeks clearing 24,480 pounds of trash near Puyallup.
"We found a time that was going work and we got the crew out there. It took a few days but we were able to clean up a very difficult stretch," said Andrew Wineke, assistant communications director for the Washington State Department of Ecology.
The Department of Ecology worked with the Washington State Department of Transportation to shut down lanes along SR 512 so crews could access and clear debris from the median. Wineke said the operation took months of planning.
This year, crews will likely pick up more than 5 million pounds of trash along roads, which isn't half of what's estimated to be tossed.
"We estimate there's 12 million pounds of litter dropped on our state's roadways each year. There's no way to pick your way up out of the problem. The key to fixing the litter problem is prevention," said Wineke.
The Department of Ecology said roadside litter causes hundreds of crashes every year. The department's research shows 25% of Washingtonians admit to littering. However, 40% of the trash comes from people not securing their loads.
"Probably the grossest things we pick up, I don't even know if I should say this, there are bottles of urine," Wineke said.
Disposing of oils, chemicals and other toxic materials harmful to the environment makes the job a challenge.
"It's disgusting, but that's something our crews have to deal with," said Wineke.
It's only been a few days since crews wrapped up clean up along SR 512 and trash has already started to return. It's a sign there are miles to go before this problem is tossed out.
"I think this is a never-ending task but it's not a hopeless task," said Wineke.
Research from the department shows that among people who litter, having a litter bag in their car would help deter them from tossing garbage onto the roads. The department said it's incorporated reusable litter bags into a future Keep WA Litter Free campaign.