Prevention is key to lowering the cost of roadside litter

Statewide secure load emphasis patrols run through May 12

Roadside litter is an unrelenting problem across the state — and it’s been growing for several years.

The Washington State Department of Transportation spends $4 million a year cleaning the state’s roads and highways. This includes operating a robust Adopt-A-Highway program and managing the contracts for Department of Corrections crews.

The Department of Ecology annually distributes grants to local governments and other agencies to fight litter, and stands up its Ecology Youth Corps litter control program each year to hire 300 teenagers for summer roadside litter crews. Still, there is far more litter being deposited than picked up. 

Combined, these efforts removed a whopping 4.6 million pounds of litter from the state’s highways and roads last year, and it’s still just 38 percent of the estimated 12 million pounds of litter that was deposited.

This fact is ruthless, but it makes clear that prevention is the key to reducing litter.  A full 40 percent of the 12 million pounds total is the result of drivers not securing and covering their vehicles loads, even though it’s a requirement under Washington law.

To help lower that number, we've been partnering with WSDOT and the Washington State Patrol since April 15 to remind people of the law. The secure load emphasis patrols will continue for two more weeks across the state, and especially in hot spots where roadside litter has become a nuisance.

Secure load emphasis patrols end Sunday, May 12.

In addition to being a legal requirement, securing and covering your vehicle’s load can save a life. Whether moving your outdoor gear to the lake, your belongings to a new residence, or your trash to a landfill, unsecured loads are deadly and pose immediate threats to traffic safety. Deposited on the side of the road, trash is a risk to our health and the environment.

Washington State Department of Transportation reader boards will alert drivers where emphasis patrols are occurring, and the Ecology Youth Corps adult median crews will continue clearing hot spots of their winter debris.

Roadside litter is expensive, ugly, and preventable. Take a little extra time to secure and cover your vehicle’s load and remind others to do the same, especially as we clean up from the snowy winter.

Five tips to secure your load

  1. Tie down load with rope, netting or straps.
  2. Tie large objects directly to the vehicle or trailer.
  3. Cover the entire load with a sturdy tarp or netting.
  4. Don't overload the vehicle.
  5. Always double check load to make sure a load is secure.

Additional resources

Find tips and videos on securing your load on Ecology's website.

Find out how to volunteer with an Adopt-A-Highway crew from WSDOT.

Find litter collection statistics from Ecology.