Littering is tossing down, on purpose or accidentally, any trash that does not end up in a proper container like a trashcan.
Anything lying by the side of any road that shouldn’t be there is roadside litter, and it’s a big problem in Texas.
There’s an old adage among gardeners that any plant that’s growing where you don’t want it becomes a weed.
Well, along the same lines anything that’s lying by the side of the road becomes litter.
And in a place as big as Texas, with our millions of people and millions of streets and highways, roadside littering becomes a very large, very expensive problem.
The Biggest Part of Texas Litter
71% of all the litter on Texas roads is what is called “microlitter.”
This means that the individual pieces are less than two square inches. This includes things like chewing gum, gum wrappers, bottle caps, ketchup packages, and more than half a million cigarette butts every year.
In fact, cigarette butts alone are 31% of Texas roadside litter. 62% of Texas smokers admit to throwing cigarette butts out of their car windows. And cigarette butts are especially dangerous for a couple of reasons.
First, they can start fires.
Secondly, the average cigarette butt holds more than 160 toxic chemicals, according to The California Waste Management Bulletin. Tossed down by the road, they slowly degrade over three years or more. And all that time, the butts are releasing these toxins into the groundwater every time it rains.
Vehicle and Tire Debris come in second, comprising 24% of the state’s roadside litter.
“It’s Biodegradable” is not an Excuse
A lot of people throw down food by our roadsides, everything from apple cores and banana peels to half eaten sandwiches. They think that since it’s biodegradable, it’s not a problem. Just wait and it will return to nature.
The problem with tossing down biodegradable food by the road is that it will attract hungry animals.
They will learn that hanging out by the side of the road means access to an easy meal. Eventually this causes problems as the animals become road kill or drivers are forced to swerve dangerously to avoid hitting some animal.
Litter Costs the Taypayers
The Texas Department of Transportation is responsible of keeping the state’s more than one million acres of roadside clean.
Collecting all that litter costs roughly 35 million dollars per year. 90% of that money comes from taxes.
Many people believe that volunteers keep our roads clean, but their work is only about 10% of the litter collected.
Fines for Littering
A first conviction can cost you as much as $500.
Further convictions can cost as much as $2000 and 180 days in jail.
Fixing the Litter Problem
Litter can be greatly reduced with just a few simple steps.
- Keep a litter bag in your car. Hang on to your trash until you can dispose of it properly.
- Don’t let loose objects blow out of your vehicle. This means the beds of pickup trucks but also the cabins of cars when the windows are open. Keep the loose objects covered or otherwise secured.
- Buying road trip snacks in bulk and using reusable water bottles will not only save you money. They also prevent individual packages and single-serve containers accidentally becoming roadside litter.
The bottom line is that there is nothing positive about garbage along Texas roads.
It’s not like there’s some pro-litter lobby that we need to worry about. Pretty much everyone agrees that litter is ugly, dangerous, and expensive.
And roadside litter is largely preventable with just a little bit of extra effort and care.