People picking up bags of trash off the side of the road.

The Illinois Department of Transportation has launched a new public outreach effort called “Think Before You Throw!” as part of its ongoing awareness campaign to reduce littering on state highways and roads.

[Above photo by Illinois DOT]

The “Think Before You Throw!” initiative aims to reduce roadside litter along the state’s more than 150,000 miles of roads by raising awareness of the negative environment impact of trash, for both state residents and the nearly 100 million tourists who visit annually.

“As one of the largest landowners in the state, [we] take great pride in making sure we are keeping our state as clean and free of clutter as possible, but we need your help,” said Illinois DOT Secretary Omer Osman in a statement.

“Excess garbage on highways can be easily avoided. Dispose of garbage properly. Make sure loads are properly secured and covered to keep debris and other trash from winding up on the roads,” he added. “Litter has consequences: Think before you throw!”  

With the arrival of spring, the agency said tis highway crews and volunteers will be engaged in litter removal operations statewide until next winter. In 2022, Illinois DOT said it spent approximately $26.5 million picking up litter and removing large debris.

The agency added that its Adopt-A-Highway program aims to offset the negative environmental impact or roadside trash by asking community groups and organizations to help with litter removal on designated state routes. In 2022, those volunteers logged 750 hours while collecting more than 1,700 bags of trash, which included in the items were televisions, toys, and a hand-written note apologizing for eating the last of a box of Twinkies.

State DOTs across the country are involved in a variety of anti-littering and roadside trash cleanup efforts.

In March, the Maryland Department of Transportation launched “Operation Clean Sweep Maryland,” a new initiative that will nearly double the frequency of litter pickup and mowing efforts along state roads.

This new effort – which began in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., regions – is under the purview of the Maryland State Highway Administration, one of Maryland DOT’s modal divisions.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Department of Transportation sponsors an annual litter prevention campaign – called “Nobody Trashes Tennessee” – with Keep Tennessee Beautiful affiliates and Adopt-A-Highway groups.

In November 2022, more than 1,300 volunteers statewide removed more than 48,000 pounds of litter in their communities as part of its month-long “No Trash November” roadway cleanup effort.

Concurrently, in August 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation joined several fellow state agencies to help launch a new anti-litter campaign entitled “PA Fights Dirty: Every Litter Bit Matters.”

The creation of this campaign is one of the many recommendations made by Pennsylvania’s first-ever Litter Action Plan, released in December 2021. That plan also won a Pennsylvania Governor’s Awards for Excellence in May 2022.

Out west, the California Department of Transportation along with the Sacramento Kings basketball team and more than 35 volunteers recently joined forces to collect and remove litter from Robert T. Matsui Park along the Sacramento River.

Caltrans Director Tony Tavares explained that this cleanup event highlighted how trash and debris pollute Sacramento waterways, including through storm water flows.

That event collected and removed more than 500 pounds of trash from the park, which included things such as broken glass, cigarettes, plastic bottles, and cans, he said.