Man’s repeated efforts to clean up litter on Route 30 highlight Pa.’s trash problem

Public Opinion – Scott Willard, 27, of Fayetteville, regularly cleans litter off of his property and his alongside his neighbors' properties. He will usually fill multiple trash bags full of discarded plastics, food containers and more.Driving along Route 30 offers beautiful views of Pennsylvania. But the lush state parks, pristine streams and well-kept yards are sometimes tarnished by litter.

Scott Willard is trying to remedy that.

For over two years, the 27-year-old has collected dozens of trash bags full of litter and discarded tires along Route 30 in Fayetteville so he and his neighbors don’t have to live with the filth.

“I walked along my route and was cleaning up stuff because I just don’t like everything around me looking like crap,” he said.

Willard cleans up the U.S. highway because he cares about his community and the wildlife nearby, but it can become an overwhelming task for just one person.

Scott Willard, 27, of Fayetteville, regularly cleans litter off of his property and his alongside his neighbors’ properties. He will usually fill multiple trash bags full of discarded plastics, food containers and more. (Photo: Carley Bonk / Chambersburg Public Opinion)

“I’ll still help, but I want to see somebody else take initiative because I get tired of being the main focus of everything that involves trash in this quarter-mile.”

“It’s still an environmental issue, but it was a personal issue after that. How can we be doing this? Her husband passed away and the only person who helps her with this is me,” he said.

Both Greene Township residents said the opening of the Fayetteville Rutter’s more than a decade ago led to an increase in litter. Trash accumulates along the property and blows onto others.

But Willard said his efforts to get the convenience store to help clean up have not worked out in the long term. He said his suggestion of extending a fence around the perimeter of the property was well received, but it has yet to happen.

Who is responsible for cleaning up litter?

Willard said he contacted the Greene Township Board of Supervisors, thinking they could do something about the area’s litter problem.

However, Township Supervisor Todd Burns said the township has received “zero complaints” about litter.

“This is the first time this issue has been brought to my attention,” he told Public Opinion.

Route 30 and the major road adjacent to it in the township, Black Gap Road (Pa. Route 997), are under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Burns said.

And litter that blows off the highway? The property owner must clean it up.

“If a property does have an accumulation of debris, the property owner could be put on notice that a violation exists,” Burns said.

Last year, the township delivered 15 notices to property owners for the accumulation of debris.

More: Colossal cleanup on the Conococheague: Dad rids creek of tons of trash so daughter can fish

How to get help

Willard has worked with the nonprofit organization Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful to pick up litter.

“It’s hard to do stuff on a large scale, so I started looking at ‘what can I do,'” he said.

With the help of some volunteers from Shippensburg University and supplies like trash bags, gloves and reflective vests, the group covered more ground than what Willard could have cleaned on his own.

“We had it clean,” he said. “Everything was spotless.”

But the roadways pile up with trash quickly without regular cleaning.

Heidi Pedicone, director of programs at Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, said that what Willard is dealing with is a common problem across the state.

“Pennsylvania does really have a big problem with litter, we know that,” she said. “Probably the best advice is to continue their efforts, but know that we are working to address the problem on a statewide level.”

The Department of Environmental Protection, PennDOT, and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful teamed up to coordinate “a multi-partner initiative to reduce littering.”

Just last week, the groups released an extensive study on littering in Pennsylvania, 2019 Pennsylvania Litter Research Study.

More: Litter costs money, and guess what? You’re paying for it. Here’s how to prevent it.

The study revealed a staggering estimate of 500 million pieces of litter scattered across the state’s roadways.

Cigarette butts and plastic compose the majority of trash, including over 40 million beverage containers and fast food products.

Motorists and pedestrians are leading sources of litter for both small and large items, according to the study, yet over 90% of the survey’s respondents considered litter as a problem in the Commonwealth.

Ziegler, Willard’s neighbor, echoed those sentiments.

“Everybody is so worried about climate change and they throw trash out on the highway,” she said. “I do not go understand this. Let’s keep the area clean, have a bag in your car.”

Pedicone said eliminating littering requires people to change their behavior. As such, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful has been working on proactive approaches to stop people from littering in the first place.

But reactive efforts are still in the plan. The organization hosts two events each year, one in the spring and one in the fall, to get people involved in cleanup efforts. Citizens who register get supplies and free disposals to help them clean up their neighborhoods.

“What that does is that gives folks just like Scott Willard or anyone out there – any group or individuals – that wants to clean up litter, or illegal dumping around them, or even beautification project the chance to do so,” she said.

Adopt a local highway

Another option for local do-gooders who want to clean up their roadways is PennDOT’s Adopt-a-Highway program.

In Franklin County, there are 60 active Adopt-a-Highway groups, covering an average of two miles each, according to David Thompson, district press officer at PennDOT.

With 600 miles of state roads in the county, that leaves about 80% without a group to keep them clean.

“Certainly, PennDOT wants our roads to be litter-free, but that just does not seem possible in the world we live in today,” Thompson said. “Wherever there are human beings, there is litter.”

Between 2014 and 2018, PennDOT spent nearly $65 million to remove litter and debris from “within highway rights-of-way across the state,” according to a state-wide study about the cost of littering led by Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful.

Thompson said enlisting the help of local people can make the work seem a little less overwhelming. Adopt-a-Highway will also provide necessary supplies for groups that clean their sections of roadways twice a year.

“These people are removing literally tons and tons of trash from our roadways and, granted, it does seem like an uphill battle and that it’s not making a difference, but it really does make a difference,” he said.

Littering affects wildlife, too

Less than a mile down the road from Willard’s home is Caledonia State Park, part of the Michaux State Forest.

“Littering and illegal dumpings have long been a problem in state forest lands,” said Park Ranger Todd Ottinger. “They are problems that are both unsightly and problematic to our forest visitors and can be harmful to wildlife alike. With limitations to both maintenance and ranger staffing resources to clean and protect the forest, we look to volunteers to help keep littering in check.”

Surveillance and volunteer groups have helped decrease the amount of litter Ottinger has seen since starting his job in 2011.

State parks also work with programs like Adopt-a-Highway and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful in order to protect wildlife.

More: Pennsylvania spends $14 million clearing roadside trash. One York man is doing it himself.

A necessary uphill battle

Despite the resources available, Willard says the trash keeps piling up near his home. He’s trying to organize cleanups every three months in order to keep it under control.

As a veteran who has served in active duty, Willard said he isn’t being respected in the place he calls home.

“It kind of makes me lose respect for society because I’ve done a lot for the country,” he said. “I just don’t feel like I’m respected and I don’t think [Susan Ziegler] feels like she’s respected. That’s a huge problem.”

But people like Willard are “extremely valuable” in keeping Pennsylvania beautiful and reducing litter, Ottinger said.

“Honestly we applaud his efforts and the fact that he cares enough to do that,” Thompson added. “He’s not only a hero because he’s a military veteran but he’s a hero for taking pride in his community and the work he does. It’s very much appreciated.”

For more information on how to get involved in cleaning up your local community, visit https://adoptahighway.penndot.gov/ and https://www.keeppabeautiful.org/.