SACRAMENTO — The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) announced Tuesday a statewide effort to resume litter removal on the state highways. Roadside litter cleanup has been limited since March due to the COVID-19 health crisis.
“Litter increases the risk of fire, pollutes our waterways, threatens wildlife and costs taxpayers millions of dollars to remove,” said Toks Omishakin, Caltrans Director. “We ask all Californians to be part of the solution, dispose of trash responsibly and secure cargo loads before getting on the road.”
Caltrans maintenance workers and partnering programs are adhering to recommendations developed in consultation with licensed industrial hygienists to ensure safe working environments while conducting litter removal efforts during the current health crisis. Crews will continue to wear personal protective equipment such as facemasks and gloves and practice physical distancing in accordance with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
California needs your help to prevent trash from ever making it to the highways. Money spent on cleaning up trash diverts crews away from filling potholes, fixing guardrails, and performing other essential maintenance activities. Motorists can be part of the solution by following a few basic travel behaviors:
– Stow a litter bag in your vehicle and always dispose of trash appropriately;
– Properly extinguish cigarettes and cigars; never throw any item, particularly one that is lit, from a vehicle.
– Always cover and properly secure cargo or materials hauled in passenger trucks and pick-ups to prevent items from falling off the vehicle.
– Volunteer to adopt a California highway and remove litter.
Litter removal was limited to protect the health and safety of Caltrans crews during the current health crisis. Due to the accumulation of trash on the state highways with traffic beginning to increase as the state reopens, Caltrans crews and volunteers with the Adopt-A-Highway program are picking up garbage statewide and removing items abandoned on the side of the road.
The CHP actively enforces California’s anti-littering laws, ticketing motorists seen littering highways or driving with unsecured cargo loads. Last year, CHP officers issued more than 3,100 citations for littering, and roughly one-third of those violations involved a lit cigarette.
“Not only is littering illegal, but there can be devastating consequences resulting from these senseless actions,” said CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley. “A lit cigarette carelessly tossed from a window can start a brush fire, an unsecured cargo load can result in a collision, and the safety of a highway worker cleaning up the mess is at great risk.”
Caltrans collected 287,000 cubic yards of litter in 2019 alone—enough to fill 18,000 garbage trucks. Of that total, 35 percent resulted from efforts by the department’s community volunteer programs, saving California millions of dollars and untold associated environmental costs.
Caltrans collaborates with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and advocacy groups to provide occupational mentoring and temporary employment to parolees and veterans. Participants are trained in litter abatement, and the program has grown from eight crews in 2009 to 55 crews operating in the state today.
The Adopt-A-Highway program provides an opportunity for individuals, organizations, and businesses to help maintain sections of the state highways. Since its start in 1989, Adopt-a Highway volunteers have removed litter from more than 15,000 miles of roadway shoulders and helped maintain 36 acres of wildflowers, 1,540 acres of vegetation management, and 111 acres of tree planting. More information on becoming an Adopt-a-Highway volunteer may be found on the Caltrans website at dot.ca.gov.