Washington litter czars welcome viral #Trashtag Challenge – but advise safety first

Teens encouraged to join Ecology Youth Corps to clean up roadways

Do you remember the Harlem Shake? What about planking? Most social media phenomena are little more than silly time wasters, but a new viral challenge aims to leave the world a little cleaner than we found it: Thousands of people around the world are joining the #Trashtag Challenge on social media by posting photos of themselves ridding their roadsides, beaches, and parks of garbage.

Ecology Youth Corps teens stand with bags.

Ecology Youth Crews is 2018 cleared more than 1 million pounds of litter from Washington roadways. Here a crew from the Puyallup area poses with a one-day haul of picked litter last year.

Ecology, which oversees litter prevention and pickup programs in Washington, commends the efforts of #Trashtag volunteers. But everyone cleaning up litter should put safety first, particularly when working near traffic or dealing with potentially dangerous trash like needles, biomedical waste, and weapons.

“Litterers annually dump more than 12 million pounds of junk in our beautiful state,” said Peter Christiansen, manager for Ecology’s roadside litter crews. “We’ll take all the help we can get picking up that trash — but make sure you take a few commonsense precautions. And consider helping out your community by picking up garbage at a park or a school.”

Christiansen advises Trashtaggers to stick to safe places like parks and beaches, and to wear high-visibility clothing and puncture-resistant boots and gloves, and stay away from roadways. If Trashtaggers choose to pick up litter from a roadway make sure it is legal, always face traffic, and be sure to have an escape route from out-of-control vehicles.

Social media fads fade over time, but litter never ends. If cleaning up your community means more to you than just a selfie for a few likes, sign up with the Washington Department of Transportation’s Adopt-a-Highway program by contacting a local coordinator.

And if you know a teenager inspired to clean up, let them know they can do more than volunteer. We plan to hire 300 teenagers throughout Washington this summer as part of the Ecology Youth Corps. Teens chosen for the Ecology Youth Corps will earn $12 per hour and work up to 32 hours per week.

In 2018, Ecology Youth Corps crews picked up over 1 million pounds of litter and cleaned about 4,500 miles of roads statewide. Since 1975, the program has hired more than 12,000 Washington teens, offering them work experience, a summer job, and the chance to preserve Washington’s natural beauty and protect our state’s environment.

Applicants must be ages 14-17 as of July 1. The first deadline for applications in the Central and Eastern regions is April 1. Deadlines for applications in our Southwest and Northwest regions are April 12 and April 16, respectively.  Applications are available through area school counselors and at www.ecology.wa.gov/EYC.

Contact one of our EYC coordinators for more information:

Central Region

Ellensburg, Goldendale, Richland, Sunnyside, Toppenish, and Union Gap.

Rod Hankinson

Monica Martinez

Eastern Region

Chewelah, Colville, Moses Lake, Othello, Pasco, Spokane, Deer Park, Pasco

Laurie Dahmen

Lynette Kuehl

Northwest Region

South King County, North King County, South/Central Snohomish County, North Snohomish/Skagit Counties, Kitsap County, and Whatcom County.

Steven Williams

Sarah Elledge

Southwest Region

Aberdeen/Montesano, Chehalis, Olympia, Puyallup, Tacoma, and Vancouver

Lexi Ehresmann

Southwest Region Litter Administrator