by: Michelle Millman Updated:
"It's really gross, here's another one." That's what Cesar Meras says to me when he finds yet another bottle filled with urine that's been tossed out of a window by a passing motorist, possibly a truck driver.
They are called "trucker bombs" and the problem isn't new, but over the last couple of years it's gotten worse.
Meras and a crew from the Department of Ecology's Northwest Region pick up garbage just off I-90 near North Bend. Their boss, Peter Christiansen, tells me this has been a problem for as long as Ecology has been picking up garbage -- about 40 years. Christiansen says they learned right where to look, an area like the first westbound exit after Snoqualmie Pass. In talking about truckers, he says, ”They'll roll through, dump their pee bottle or whatever else they want to dump and move on."
At a busy truck stop near North Bend, I talked with several truckers. None would admit to throwing out pee bottles while on the move but Oregon trucker Jim Straney says they all relieve themselves while driving and tells me any trucker who tells me otherwise is lying. Those who toss the bottles out the window Straney calls "barbaric" and says he's "ashamed" of those truckers. A new federal law could help the problem but at this point it doesn't seem to be. Truckers must stop for a 30-minute break every eight hours. Truckers' electronic logs are checked by state troopers at weigh stations or if they are pulled over, but as Straney tells me, eight hours are still a long time if you're going down the road "and drinking soda pop all day."
Motorists too are disgusted by the practice of throwing pee bottles out the window, and over the past several years it appears the problem is getting worse. A litter campaign that ended four years ago could be partly to blame. During the campaign, Washington's Department of Ecology saw about a 25 percent reduction in litter overall. Budget cuts four years ago took the campaign right along with them. And the pee bottles -- even baggies with feces -- are piling up yet again.
The fine if you're caught throwing a pee bottle out the window is more than $1,000. In 2002, state lawmakers created a "dangerous litter" category and increased the fines from $95 to $1,025. Pee bottles were included in the "dangerous litter" category.
I talked with Lisa Pearce of North Bend, who asks for just a little decency. She told me, "It all has to do with self-reliance and accountability. Of course that's something that's a little novel these days."