Washington Department of Ecology raising awareness on million-pound litter problem

The Washington State Department of Ecology released a new study on Monday to raise awareness about the state’s litter problem.

Nearly 38 million pounds of trash gets thrown onto our state’s roads, parks, and recreation areas every year. That’s almost five pounds per Washingtonian.

The study found an average of 8,112 pieces of litter per mile on roadways last spring. That’s well above the national average which is 5,714 per mile. The study didn’t even count litter from homeless encampments, only the amount of litter thrown out the window or left by travelers.

The department said some of the most common items include cigarette butts, food wrappers, glass bottles and construction debris. It also said the biggest offenders are 18 to 44-year-old men.

“Why do they do it? The most common excuse is simply not having a litter bag in their vehicle or the equipment needed to properly cover and secure their load,” said the department.

Unsecured loads aren’t just dangerous for the environment but can have deadly consequences. The department said every year debris from unsecured loads causes over 300 traffic accidents and 30 injuries. In 2022, unsecured loads caused five deaths.

The department said they are working with the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Washington State Patrol on prevention and cleanup.

“It’s no surprise to us that litter is a serious challenge for our state. Ecology and our partners have already picked up over 6 million pounds of litter in the first half of this year, nearly an all-time high,” said Ecology’s director, Laura Watson. “But we can’t clean our way out of this. This new data really underscores the work we still have ahead of us and the importance of preventing litter at the source.”

State agencies plan to expand the ‘We Keep WA Litter Free’ campaign.

“Ecology’s research identified “not having a trash bag in the car” as one of the top reasons people litter. To address that need, the ‘We Keep WA Litter Free’ campaign is giving away free, reusable car litter bags at grocery stores throughout the state.” said the department.

Participating stores can be found on a map here and listed here.

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