Litter Program Budget
Questions and Answers

How long has the state's litter program been around?

The Model Litter Control Act (Chapter 70.93 RCW) was passed in 1971 and Ecology has been involved in statewide litter programs ever since. In 1998, the Legislature put Ecology in a greater leadership role and the agency now works with other state agencies (the departments of Corrections, Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, and Parks and Recreation) and local governments to administer litter control programs.

What does Ecology do?

One of the most visible features of our litter program has been hiring youth 14-17 years old to pick up litter in the summer. Prior to this year, Ecology Youth Corps (EYC) summer program has provided an average of about 350 jobs annually to youth across the state. The program removed approximately 1 million pounds of litter a year.

Another significant effort by Ecology began in 2002. The "Litter and it will hurt" public outreach and education campaign consisted of media and billboard advertising, public relations, special events, and enforcement. It has raised public awareness about the negative consequences of littering and unsecured loads, and promoted the importance of litter prevention.

How does the program get funding?

Funding for the litter program comes from a dedicated account, the Waste Reduction, Recycling, and Model Litter Control Account (Chapter 70.93.180 RCW). Money is raised from a tax on industries whose products tend to contribute to the litter problem.

In the budget that began July 1, 2013 funds were transferred from this dedicated account to State Parks to meet other state priorities. Between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2015, about $24 million has been cut from the litter account. This is about 40% of the total litter budget.

What does the budget cut mean for the state's litter programs?

Cuts in funding will result in more litter created and less litter picked up. Some specific results of the cuts are to:
  • Hire 100 fewer youth this summer statewide. Hire fewer median crews during spring and fall. Crews will be smaller and work a shorter season due to budget restrictions.
  • Suspend the "Litter and it will hurt" campaign. Suspend the toll-free hotline. Roadway signs and Ecology-hosted website will remain, to discourage state residents from littering by providing those who observe an act of littering a way to report it. Washington State Patrol will still enforce state litter laws. Some local governments will continue to educate the public about the need to properly secure vehicle loads.
  • Reduce local grants. Counties will still receive 20 percent of appropriated litter money, but overall program funding is reduced. Almost all counties use funds to send correctional crews to pick up litter on local and county roads and clean up illegal dumps.
  • Reduce funding to other state agencies' litter pickup efforts.
  • Reduce Ecology's program by four positions, including the litter program's statewide coordinator position.
Will there be more litter along state roadways?

Some secondary state roads or heavily trafficked roadways will not be cleaned as often, due to fewer crews being available. Visible litter will increase in these areas. Prior to this year, Ecology funded programs picked up 5-7 million pounds of litter and illegally dumped material annually.

We are trying to adapt to the budget shortfall and are changing strategies in litter pick-up. Ecology Youth Corps crews will adopt new litter pickup standards in order to extend their range, leaving smaller, less visible litter behind. The previous cleaning standard focused on picking up any litter that was the size of a quarter or larger. Crews will now focus on picking up baseball-size or larger pieces of litter.

In the winter months (December-February), it is unsafe for any crews to be on the road due to dangerous conditions and no crews pick up litter during this period.

Can inmate litter crews fill in the budget gap?

Correctional crews do pick up litter in most counties in the state now. This reduces some costs, but this activity still requires public funds. Every correctional crew needs a supervisor, transportation, safety equipment, and money to dispose of the litter. They also need to be properly trained to work in high traffic areas.

Why is litter a public issue?

Litter is not only ugly, it is dangerous. Lit cigarette butts tossed from vehicle windows cause roadside fires. Unsecured loads on the highways and roads cause collisions and traffic backups. Some have even been fatal. We have found that if we don't pick up litter, these areas become even dirtier. However people are less inclined to be the first to litter a clean site.

What can I do to help?

With fewer government resources being devoted to clean up state highways and roadways there's a simple solution: if you don't want to see more trash in our environment, don't throw it out there! If trash does not leave your vehicle, it won't be an eyesore or hazard on the side of the road. Here are some other things you can do to help: What else can I do? I'd like to be part of the solution and help pick-up litter. Can you provide me with some litter bags?

Be safe. Please do not go out and pick up litter along a road or highway on your own. Join an organized volunteer program through your city or county so you can receive safety training, litter bags, and safety equipment. Or join a group with the Dept. of Transportation's Adopt-a-Highway program.