Monday, November 22, 2021

State Releases First-Ever Litter Action Plan, Calls For Universal Access To Trash Disposal, Recycling, Extended Producer Responsibility, New Anti-Litter Funding

On November 22, Gov. Tom Wolf, the state secretaries for the departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection, joined other administration and community stakeholders in Lancaster to highlight innovative local anti-littering measures and called for action to combat Pennsylvania’s litter-problem at all levels statewide.

The Wolf Administration released the state’s first-ever Litter Action Plan (PDF)–which reflects the work of more than 100 stakeholders from state and local government, businesses, the legislature, and more–and includes both current initiatives and recommendations to clean up the more than 500 million pieces of litter scattered throughout the Commonwealth.

Among the recommendations for action by the General Assembly are adopting requirements to mandate universal access to convenient and affordable trash disposal and recycling; extended producer responsibility for the waste they create with their products; and identifying a new funding mechanism to support local litter prevention and abatement programs.

“Pennsylvania is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. It’s a beautiful state with stunning landscapes and bountiful natural resources. But, we’ve got a litter problem,” said Gov. Wolf. “Litter is bad for the environment and our communities, it’s a drain on taxpayer dollars. Today I’m excited to unveil a solution that all 13 million Pennsylvanians can be a part of, it’s a blueprint for a cleaner Commonwealth.”

Demonstrating the cost of litter to communities and the Commonwealth, PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian noted that the agency’s annual $14 million cost to clean up litter makes litter prevention especially important.

“We recognize we need to change behavior, not just clean up the mess,” Gramian said. “With this Commonwealth Litter Action Plan, we’ve provided examples, resources, and calls to action so we can make some transformative change here in Pennsylvania.”

DEP has funded “Pick Up Pennsylvania” community litter cleanups and illegal dump site cleanups organized by Keep PA Beautiful for over two decades, supporting volunteers in removing many tons of trash from the land and waters. 

As littering has persisted, DEP sponsored with PennDOT the first comprehensive state study to inform development of the Litter Action Plan, with a focus on changing littering behavior. 

“DEP is committed to helping drive a statewide shift to litter prevention,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “If we bring the same energy to litter prevention initiatives that thousands of volunteers have brought to cleaning up litter in their communities, we’ll turn a corner on Pennsylvania’s trash problem. And we’ll gain the community and economic benefits of a healthier environment.”

In addition to examples and suggestions for the General Assembly, local governments, businesses, and the public, the report outlines 16 recommendations for the Commonwealth. 

New Laws

The plan’s recommendations for the General Assembly feature several proposed changes to existing laws and three new proposed laws-- 

-- Require universal access to convenient and affordable trash disposal and recycling. Presently, it is not convenient for all Pennsylvanians to dispose of their waste or recycling responsibly rather than through littering or illegal dumping. 

Pennsylvania’s Solid Waste Management Act and Act 101 of 1988 should be amended to require all Pennsylvanians have access to convenient waste and recycling services, but local governments should be given flexibility on how to provide that access. 

For example, more populated municipalities can use curbside services, while more rural areas of the state can have rural convenience centers to collect waste and recycling or have community collection events. 

-- Incorporate extended producer responsibility. As more communities across the United States are faced with increasing amounts of waste and related mismanagement, placing responsibility for the treatment and disposal of products on producers has become an increasingly popular regulatory model.

Extended Producer Responsibility, also referred to as EPR, is a policy method in which producers are accountable for the treatment or disposal of postconsumer products. By placing the responsibility for managing waste on producers, this approach helps to provide incentives for producers to prevent waste up front and help to encourage more sustainable product design.

-- Identify a new legislated funding mechanism to support county and/or local litter prevention and abatement activities. Participating cities reportedly spend collectively over $68 million each year on prevention, education, cleanup and enforcement initiatives to address litter and illegal dumping. Those costs are in addition to the millions of dollars DEP and PennDOT spend each year to help communities address litter and illegal dumping. 

To ensure local communities throughout Pennsylvania have the resources they need, the General Assembly should identify and implement a funding mechanism to aid local governments in their litter prevention and abatement activities. 

-- Evaluate and update littering and illegal dumping fines. Civil penalties associated with littering and illegal dumping are often considered to be either too high or too low and therefore, not an effective deterrent to preventing an individual from littering or illegal dumping in the first place.

-- Create a dedicated fund for littering and illegal dumping fines. To ensure that any fines for littering and illegal dumping are used to help address the issues of littering and illegal dumping, a dedicated fund for littering and illegal dumping fines should be created. The monies in this fund should be spent solely on littering and illegal dumping prevention activities and programs. 

-- Create “environmental court” days. Environmental courts are a type of court system that handle cases related to violation of environmental laws only. This allows for judges to become specialized in environmental laws and ensure that environmental violations, like littering and illegal dumping, are handled more promptly. Pennsylvania’s legislature and the court system should consider where an environmental court might make sense to establish in order to enhance litter and illegal dumping oversight.

State Agencies

Examples of actions state agencies are taking to support the higher-level recommendations in the plan include:

-- Spring Anti-Litter Campaign: PennDOT, the Department of Community and Economic Development, and DEP collaboration on an anti-litter campaign anticipated for spring 2022.

-- Review Of PennDOT Anti-Litter Policies: PennDOT analysis of where and how to ensure it has the right litter-reducing tools in place in its public-facing facilities.

-- Increase Waste Disposal/Recycling Options In Rural Areas: DEP work underway on a new rulemaking to provide convenient and affordable access to waste disposal and recycling services in rural areas of Pennsylvania where trash collection and recycling services are currently not economically feasible. 

-- DCNR ‘Leave No Trace’ Program: The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is complementing their “Leave No Trace” program with working to update their concessionaire agreements to include language aimed at combating litter, such as requiring food providers to minimize paper straw and disposable utensil use. And when onsite composting is available at a state park, concessionaires will be required to work with DCNR to convert as many of their food service products to compostable, paper-based forest product alternatives and then compost them with the food waste.

-- Continuing State Police Enforcement: State Police continuing Operation Clean Sweep, which launched this summer and reinforces a zero-tolerance mindset with litter enforcement, while sharing anti-litter messages year-round. This complements their assistance with enforcing Litter Enforcement Corridors that – under a 2018 law – can be designated by the department and local governments to combat litter.

-- Anti-Litter Curriculum In Schools/Standards: The Department of Education’s review of opportunities to further incorporate anti-litter curriculum into their environmental programming standards.

-- Fishing Line Disposal: Fish and Boat Commission pilot projects, in coordination with DCNR, to properly dispose of fishing line.

“Lancaster residents and I recognize the importance of beautification in our community,” said Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster). “We implement various innovative approaches to accomplish this aim, especially in significant litter reduction. Lancaster will continue to be a shining example of a city that respects and nourishes its environment.”  

The plan’s workgroups included 17 participants from local governments and among the group’s recommendations for local governments is the suggestion to “get creative with public waste infrastructure maintenance.” 

The plan and media event featured the City of Lancaster’s Tiny Can Project, which installs “tiny cans” (trash receptacles) every few houses on both sides of the street for an entire city block in three target areas. 

Residents who have a “tiny can” in front of their house will be responsible for emptying the receptacles on trash day and will dispose of it with their regular trash collection.

“Innovative solutions like the Tiny Can project in southeast Lancaster will help us boost community pride and strengthen our neighborhoods, block by block,” Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace said. “We thank the Wolf administration for their leadership on this quality-of-life issue and are happy to do our part in tackling this challenge in Lancaster City.”

The event participants discussed the need for statewide action from all levels to address littering as a cost and quality of life issue.

Recommendations for businesses and the public will be continually shared through the workgroup participants moving forward.

Click Here for a copy of the Litter Action Plan and Recommendations.


-- Visit DEP’s Litter In Pennsylvania webpage

-- Visit PennDOT’s Roadside Beautification webpage for litter information and many additional litter cleanup volunteer opportunities, including Adopt-A-Highway, Litter Brigades, and more 

-- Visit the  Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful website for information on anti-litter education, enforcement, prevention and cleanup.

Related Articles:

-- DEP & PennDOT Seek Volunteers To Pick Up Pennsylvania To Benefit Streams, Rivers, and Lakes

-- Keep PA Beautiful Accepting Art, Essay, Video Entries For Litter Hawk Youth Awards Program

-- Pennsylvania Teachers Invited To Participate In Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful’s Litter Free School Zone Program

-- Keep PA Beautiful: Over 60,000 Volunteers Participated In Spring Pick Up PA Cleanup Program

-- Penn State Extension: Keeping Plastics Out Of Our Waters Is Pivotal To Improving The Health Of Our Waterways

[Posted: November 22, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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