W.Pa. communities prepare to combat litter in Great American Cleanup
Car axles, lawnmowers and a snow blower are among the big items volunteers have discovered discarded along Monroeville roads during the municipality's annual Jack Sedlak Memorial Clean Up Day.
“Who pushes a snow blower over the hill?” wondered Joe Sedlak, the community's human resources director and son of the late councilman who was key in initiating the local battle against litter 23 years ago.
Enlisting 400 or so volunteers who fill about 1,000 bags with trash each year, it is one of the region's largest litter collection efforts included in the Great American Cleanup . That nationwide program is organized at the state level by Greensburg-based nonprofit Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful and takes in thousands of events in March through May, including beautification projects such as tree or flower plantings.
For registered Great American Cleanup events, PennDOT provides free trash bags, gloves and safety vests to make volunteers more visible to traffic.
Many events are scheduled close to Earth Day — April 22 this year. Monroeville's is set for April 21.
“Every year on Earth Day, my father would grab people to help clean up the roads and the parks,” Sedlak said.
The event has grown to include a picnic for volunteers, who can win sponsored prizes.
Sedlak feels Monroeville is making a dent in its litter.
“It seems like it's a little less every year,” he said. “You keep plugging away. That's all you can do.”
Expansion of local curbside recycling to include newspapers and cardboard has had a positive impact, Sedlak said. Though smoking tobacco has become less popular, Monroeville volunteers still encounter thousands of cigarette butts, along with paper products from fast food restaurants, he said.
“Wherever there's a lot of people, you're going to find cigarette butts,” said Michelle Dunn, program coordinator for Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. “In rural areas, it's usually larger items — household appliances and tires, just a mix of everything.”
7,280 cleanups last year
As the Great American Cleanup got under way Thursday, organizers had registered more than 250 Pennsylvania events. Dunn said that's on pace with the previous year, when 7,280 events eventually were held across the state — mobilizing 132,695 volunteers to clean up more than 5.3 million pounds of trash and 20,858 tires from along 11,168 miles of roads, trails and shorelines.
In Westmoreland County, 904 volunteers in 2017 picked up 42,740 pounds of trash and removed 304 abandoned tires. Allegheny County's 10,127 volunteers collected 623,940 pounds of trash and disposed of 1,818 tires.
The Slovene National Benefit Society Lodge 729 will organize volunteers April 7 for its fourth annual cleanup in Yukon.
“Each year, it's become easier” after accumulated trash including tires and TV sets initially was targeted, lodge auditor Barb Liptak said.
Still, new litter shows up every year, particularly near the entrance and exit ramps of Interstate 70. “At least for three weeks, everybody feels good,” while the town's streets remain uncluttered, lodge treasurer Joann Krance said.
Last year, about 35 people collected 95 bags of litter and four tires from along four miles of Yukon roads, with adults recruiting their children to help. “It's a lesson we're teaching them,” Liptak said.
The Loyalhanna Watershed Association is organizing two simultaneous roadside litter collections April 7 — one in Ligonier Borough and portions of Ligonier Township, where the group is based, and another covering a section of the Route 30 corridor in Unity, from the Kingston Dam west to the entrance to Saint Vincent College.
In its 13th year, the Ligonier area effort draws up to 300 volunteers who collect about 100 bags of trash from a large area including the villages of Laughlintown, Rector, Wilpen and Darlington. The 12th annual Unity cleanup, which attracts some help from students at the college and Greater Latrobe public schools, typically nets up to 50 bags of litter.
A problem area along the Unity corridor is an undeveloped field between the Mountain Laurel and Wildcat Commons shopping plazas.
“That field is constantly full of garbage,” said Josh Penatzer, project manager for the watershed group. “Things get blown into it and make it look pretty trashy.”
Illegal dumping is an habitual problem in several areas targeted by the Ligonier area volunteers. Remote sections of the ridge between Latrobe and Ligonier are prime locations to find anything from building supply scraps to TVs, tires and mattresses.
Penatzer noted volunteers must take extra care when they clean spots with discarded hypodermic needles.
Protecting the river
The Kiski Watershed and Roaring Run Watershed associations have combined efforts to remove trash from the Kiskiminetas River and areas that drain into it. Last April, they partnered with Bell Township to clear dumped items from a ravine as part of an improvement project on adjoining Coal Hollow Road.
About two dozen volunteers netted roughly 200 tires, a few dozen TV sets and other electronics items, and well over a ton of smaller pieces of trash, according to Chelsea Walker, a watershed specialist with the Westmoreland Conservation District who is affiliated with both watershed groups.
The township provided equipment to help pull a discarded safe from the ravine, noted John Linkes, who is involved with the local watershed groups.
“A lot of this stuff is toxic, and you don't want it in the river,” said Genay Hess, president of the Kiski Watershed Association.
The groups this year are considering a cleanup near Hyde Park in June — after the Great American Cleanup has ended.
On April 14, Duquesne University students and staff will join with community volunteers to clear litter from Pittsburgh neighborhoods on the South Side, Uptown and in the Hill District in the 30th annual Spring Clean-Up sponsored by the Spiritan Campus Ministry.
Campus minister Kate Lecci said the event has attracted as many as 800 volunteers and last year hauled away about 1,000 pounds of trash. As a result of such efforts, she said, students can spend more of their time during the event helping with chores at a half dozen community gardens and urban farms.
To register or get information on the Great American Cleanup, visit gacofpa.org or contact Dunn at 1-877-772-3673, ext. 113.
Those who schedule events April 7-30, during the state's Pick It Up PA Days, may get free or reduced-cost disposal at participating landfills.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @jhimler_news.