Litter in Pennsylvania
over 500 million pieces of litter on Pennsylvania’s roads. Litter is also polluting our neighborhoods, parks, streams and rivers, and countryside and woodlands. Be pro-Pennsylvania. Be anti-litter.
12 ways to be anti-litter
In your life:
1. Keep a reusable bag in your car for your food wrappers, carryout containers, or other trash, and throw it out at home. Car windows should be for cool breezes only.
2. Live the reduce-reuse-recycle lifestyle. It’s a thing. Ask for less packaging. Shun single-use plastics. Make items last for as long as possible, buy used whenever possible—and claim the bragging rights. Recycle right! Check the website of your city, township, or borough to find out what items you can and can’t recycle.
3. Cover your trash and recycling bins when you take them to the curb. If you sweep the sidewalk in front of your home, don’t sweep the litter into the street. It won’t be picked up. Bag it and throw it in a trash can.
4. Any time you haul junk in the back of a truck, cover it. Uncovered trucks are one of the top three sources of litter on Pennsylvania roads, along with drivers and pedestrians.
5. Leave no trace in Pennsylvania’s parks and forests. Carry out what you carried in. It’s a small price to pay for our beautiful—and free--parks.
Learn the Leave No Trace code.
6. If you are a smoker, keep a container in your car and pocket for cigarette butts. Cigarette butts aren’t natural fiber, like many people think. They contain plastic, and leach nicotine and heavy metals. And take about 5 years to break down.
7. Report illegal dump sites. It’s easy and confidential. Use this
online form from Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, who will share it with the authorities so that action can be taken.
In your community:
8. Join a local volunteer litter cleanup event through Pick Up Pennsylvania. Free supplies are provided for PUP events March 1–May 31 and September 1–November 30. From scout troops to sportsmen associations to soccer moms, thousands of Pennsylvanians participate in this campaign, sponsored each year by DEP, PennDOT, and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. To join an event, or start one, go to
Pick Up Pennsylvania.
9. Give your city, township, or borough office a call to find out what they’re doing on litter and how to join in. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and many other cities statewide have active litter programs the public can get involved in. Just one example: Check out the
City of Pittsburgh’s Garbage Olympics, and be inspired!
10. Adopt a highway. It’s easy to apply, and PennDOT provides supplies. Many businesses and organizations demonstrate commitment to their local community this way. Why not yours? Sign up at
Adopt A Highway.
11. If you’re a local government office, take your litter efforts up a notch. Put out more trash and recycling bins, offer special collection events, and provide education and outreach to residents. If you haven’t already, establish a recycling program.
Apply to DEP for grants to support your recycling program and litter and illegal dumping efforts, too.
12. Help your local school be litter free. If you’re a teacher, school administrator, or parent, start a
Litter Free School Zone program to teach students about litter impacts and community involvement.
Bonus: You’ll be a leader for kids and others in your community!
Litter: Even worse than it looks
Litter looks bad. Its impacts are even worse. It degrades the natural environment we depend on. Most trash takes years, and even centuries, to break down, so wherever it lands, it’s going to be there a long time, leaching chemicals, rusting, and creating problems for unsuspecting wildlife.
Or the next heavy rain may carry it through a storm drain straight into a nearby stream or river. For an eye-opening look at the damage litter causes to aquatic ecosystems, see
Impacts of Mismanaged Trash, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Litter also threatens our health by harboring bacteria and attracting disease-carrying mosquitoes and rodents. It keeps us from feeling comfortable being out in our communities: Trash is a sign of neglect that invites more trash and, ultimately, vandalism. It turns away business prospects and tourism as well.
DEP has spent over $10 million to support volunteer litter cleanups. PennDOT spends about $13 million every year on roadside cleanups. Cities around the state
spend over $68 million a year on trash cleanup. As you can see, litter costs Pennsylvanians millions of dollars’ worth of other benefits we would enjoy if we didn’t have to spend significant money cleaning up trash.
Ahead: A Littering Prevention Campaign
Litter cleanup is extremely costly, and, despite amazing help by thousands of Pennsylvanians, trash keeps piling up. It’s time to shift focus to litter prevention.
DEP, PennDOT, and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful are coordinating a multi-partner initiative to develop a littering prevention action plan that, for the first time, is guided by state litter data and a nationally recognized model of behavior change.
The plan will include strategies in four areas:
- Infrastructure: such as waste and recycling facilities and trash cans;
- Outreach and education: Public and school-based
- Regulation and enforcement: Evaluating the effectiveness of current laws and ordinances and identifying possible regulatory and enforcement updates.
- Community partnerships: Considering ways that businesses and industry leaders can help to reduce litter.
Work groups are meeting throughout the summer in 2021, using state research findings to develop their litter prevention recommendations. The goal is to release a littering prevention plan by the end of 2021.
Follow progress at