Spring projects begin to get litter off area roadways
Brad Scherf is expecting company. And like any good host, he wants to straighten up his home first.
In this case, his home is not his house, but his town, New Kensington.
Scherf is among area residents organizing and participating in litter cleanups being held through May statewide as part of the Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania.
Locally, several events are planned for April 21, the weekend of Earth Day, which is April 22. The effort Scherf is heading for the third time this year is one of them.
A commuter train from the Allegheny Valley to Pittsburgh may be years away, but Scherf wants to be sure New Kensington is ready for it.
"The fact of the matter is, I want to show off my town, and I want to keep it clean," he said.
Last year, nearly 160,000 people took part in more than 4,000 cleanup projects across the state, according to Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful's results of the 2011 Great American Cleanup of PA. They collected about 354,000 bags of litter and 7.1 million pounds of trash from nearly 13,000 miles of roads and about 5,800 acres of park land.
Roadside litter seems worse this year, said Michelle Dunn, a program coordinator in Greensburg with the Great American Cleanup of PA.
Possibly contributing to that perception is that there wasn't much snow this winter to cover up the trash. And, despite the early warm temperatures, vegetation hasn't grown in yet to hide it, either.
"This year it seems really worse to me. I don't know why. There's more litter on the side of the road," Dunn said.
PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi agreed that litter seems worse this year, and it's reflected in how much the agency is spending cleaning it up.
In 2011, PennDOT spent about $560,000 on cleaning up litter in Allegheny County. In three months this year, the agency has spent about $337,000, Struzzi said.
"The problem is much worse than it's been before. It's unfortunate because it's something easily prevented. We have to spend taxpayer dollars to clean up their messes when we could be using that money to improve the roadways," Struzzi said. "It's not something we choose to do. It's something we have to do, because people just don't care."
Littering is a crime. When done from a vehicle, it can result in a fine of up to $300 as a summary offense under the state's vehicle code.
Otherwise, scattering rubbish carries a fine of $50 to $300 for a first offense as a summary under the crimes code, rising to $300 to $1,000 and becoming a misdemeanor for second and subsequent offenses, said state police Sgt. Anthony Manetta.
State police will ticket people seen littering and have gone through bags of trash looking for things like mail that identify people dumping trash, Manetta said.
"It shouldn't take the threat of a fine or getting caught to keep people from littering. It's common courtesy," Manetta said.
Despite appearances this year, litter and littering have decreased but remain a persistent and costly problem, according to Keep America Beautiful, which in 2009 did its first national research on litter since 1969.
According to the study, more than 51 billion pieces of litter appear on U.S. roadways each year. Cleaning it up costs the United States more than $11.5 billion annually.
The study found litter costs more than just cleaning it up. The presence of litter can reduce property values and influence decisions to buy property. It can deter customers from entering a business, and impact a business' decision to locate to a community.
"Do people want to live here and do businesses want to locate here if the area looks disgusting• That's something people need to think about," Struzzi said.
In the 40 years between studies, Keep America Beautiful found that visible roadside litter on the nation's roadways has decreased about 61 percent.
Scherf said he's seen less litter in recent years in New Kensington, but it's always the same areas that keep getting trashed.
"Unfortunately, it goes back to our throwaway society," Scherf said. "If you've got the garbage in your car, just take it home, folks. Take it home and put it in your own garbage."
After having scores of volunteers work hard to clean up litter, Scherf said it's disheartening when places are littered again as soon as the next day.
"It doesn't deter the volunteers. It doesn't deter me at all," he said. "I'd like to think that it's going to stop one of these days."
In past years, volunteers have pulled enough car parts from Deer Creek in Indiana Township to build a car, said Bob Simko, the unofficial "chief garbage picker" with the Tri County Trout Club, which again this year is organizing volunteers from age 8 to 80 to clean up Emmerling Park and the stream.
But where they used to pull out 100 tires at a time, they're down to about two dozen, said Simko, of Springdale Township.
"The litter has been better. People aren't leaving bait containers and potato chip bags like the used to," he said. "Maybe we're finally getting on top of it."
The riverfronts have long been a target of littering and trash dumping. In Harrison, volunteers last year amassed more than 200 bags of trash and a truckload of tires, said Pat Walters, secretary of Natrona Comes Together, which has done a litter cleanup each of the last six years.
But Walters said that's about half the number of bags they used to fill. And with people eager to get money from scrap, they're not finding as many appliances dumped.
"There's been a big turnaround in our town. When we started people were dumping all over the river. That doesn't happen anymore. They know we're going to be around and it's not acceptable," she said.
Local cleanup efforts
Valley area litter cleanup events scheduled include:
• Indiana Township: Deer Creek cleanup, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. March 31, Emmerling Park.
Sponsored by Tri County Trout Club. Contact Bob Simko, 412-302-8382, or email@example.com.
• Harrison Township: Natrona Annual Spring Cleanup, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. April 14-16, 4 River Ave., Natrona (playground)
Sponsored by Natrona Comes Together. Contact Pat Walters, 724-224-7599, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Aspinwall: Aspinwall Green Streets, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. April 21, beginning at Aspinwall Beans 'n Cream on Brilliant Avenue.
Sponsored by Green Streets (Aspinwall Neighborhood Watch). Contact Tripp Clarke, 412-596-8514, or email@example.com
• Harmar Township: Great American CleanUp, 8 a.m.-12 p.m. April 21, Freeport Road and surrounding areas.
Sponsored by Harmar Township. Contact Laura Conte, 724-274-4550/4551, or firstname.lastname@example.org
• Winfield Township: Roadside Cleanup Day, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 21, township-wide.
Sponsored by Winfield Township. Contact Barb Slimick, 724-352-3333 or email@example.com.
• New Kensington: New Kensington Great American Cleanup, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. April 21, New Kensington railway to Parnassus and all of downtown New Kensington.
Sponsored by New Kensington Great American Cleanup. Contact Brad Scherf, 724-335-5685, or firstname.lastname@example.org
• Kittanning: Adopt a Trail Clean-up Day, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 28, Rosston to East Brady, Clarion County.
Sponsored by Armstrong Rails to Trails Association. Contact Toni Henry, 724-526-3552, or ToniLHenry@yahoo.com
For information and to check for events or register an event, visit www.gacofpa.org .