By Jill Bernstein
Keeping our highways litter free is a big, expensive job. There are 7,000 miles of state highway in Arizona, and it costs taxpayers more than $6 million annually to tackle the problem. That’s a lot of money, and we all know that it’s an ongoing challenge.
In addition to the cost, litter-strewn roads have a negative impact on everyone. Litter spoils the view, degrades the environment, attracts vermin, and endangers people and wildlife.
As the director of a statewide organization dedicated to helping communities combat litter, I often hear from people across the state who are frustrated by trash on the highways and are looking for ways to make a difference.
Raising awareness is the first step to changing behavior. Although anti-littering messaging has been around since the early 60s, there are still people who haven’t gotten the message. If you see someone tossing litter from a car, you can call the statewide litter hotline at 1-877-3LITTER (1-877-354-8837) or visit the Keep Arizona Beautiful website and fill out a short form to report it.
ADOT also sponsors two different Adopt a Highway programs that enable individuals or businesses to help combat litter on our state roads. The Sponsor program works with businesses that contract with maintenance providers to clean up roadside litter. The Adopt a Highway Volunteer program enables community members to join with neighbors and friends to adopt a portion of highway as their own.
How does the Adopt a Highway Volunteer program work?
A volunteer applies for a two-year permit to adopt an available section of road for their group (generally about six to 10 people). The permit covers a two-mile stretch of highway. ADOT provides the group with a safety briefing and two recognition signs that mark the ends of their adopted section. Volunteers are required to wear ANSI Class II safety vests, which are sometimes available from ADOT. Additionally, volunteers will need to wear hats, gloves, and closed toe shoes and carry their own water.
Once a group has received a permit, they schedule the date and time of each cleanup with an ADOT contact who will help get trash bags for the event. Groups are asked to commit to cleaning up between two and four times per year.
Because volunteers are cleaning up on the side of highways, safety is key for everyone involved. (Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to participate.) ADOT provides a Safety Briefing that is revised regularly to include critical updates regarding potential hazards. It is important that all participants review this briefing before every cleanup.
When a group finishes a cleanup event, they simply leave their filled trash bags on the ground at least six to 10 feet from the roadway. The group leader then fills out an activity report online, and ADOT arranges to pick up and remove the filled bags.
The Adopt a Highway Volunteer program is a fun and easy way to spend time outdoors with other engaged citizens and help to keep our highways clean and beautiful. Some groups have been together for years and even award each other prizes for the weirdest piece of trash collected or the best story told about some discarded item. As we all work to raise public awareness and overcome littering behaviors, working as a group to help maintain a stretch of beautiful Arizona highway is a great way for each of us to make a difference!
Learn more about the ADOT Adopt a Highway Volunteer Program and apply for a permit at azdot.gov/business/programs-and-partnerships/AdoptaHighway/volunteer-program.
Jill Bernstein is the Executive Director of Keep Arizona Beautiful, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering communities to take care of their environment through litter abatement, recycling and beautification.
Read more environment articles at greenlivingaz.com/enviroment