Thousands of Adopt-a-Highway volunteers picked up more than 29,500 bags of trash from highway ditches in 2021, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

[Above photo by the Minnesota DOT]

Across Minnesota, over 1,500 Adopt-a-Highway groups volunteered more than 70,000 hours collectively in 2021, with 830 roadway sections currently available for adoption statewide, the agency said.

“We can’t thank our Adopt-a-Highway volunteers enough for the service they provide our state and would love to have more groups on our team,” noted Ann McLellan, Minnesota DOT’s manager for its statewide “Adopt-a-Highway” efforts, in a statement. The Adopt-a-Highway program has been part of Minnesota DOT’s maintenance operations since 1990, she added.

Minnesota DOT provides safety training, trash bags, and safety vests for Adopt-a-Highway volunteers, with agency maintenance crews picking up the filled bags that volunteers leave along the side of the road.

“Volunteers not only help to keep Minnesota roadsides clean, but their work allows our crews to focus on other tasks that help keep highways safe,” McLellan said. “It is a win-win for all involved.”

State departments of transportation across the country have been ramping up litter removal efforts over the past year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced many to curtail or even suspend highway trash collection and removal efforts.

State DOTs are also deploying new equipment and policies to clean up highway litter.

For example, the Idaho Transportation Department deployed a new machine in March to pick up trash along Interstate 90 from Washington to Coeur d’Alene.

The new contraption requires two operators – one to drive the machine, which uses metal teeth to comb through the grass, and another to haul the trash away in a dump truck.

“To do [clear trash] one mile by hand takes five operators working together for eight hours,” explained Jerry Wilson, an operations engineer with the agency, in a statement. “With this machine, we can cut that down to two people working five hours and still cover the same distance.”

On the policy front, in April 2021, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development implemented a new policy for its field crews to pick up trash in the footprint where they work for the day. Called the ‘Take 10’ campaign, it commits agency work crews to take 10 minutes per day at their job sites to pick up highway litter.

“I try to never ask anyone to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself,” said Shawn Wilson, Ph. D., Louisiana DOTD’s secretary, in a statement at the time. Wilson – who also serves as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2021-2022 president – noted that his “long-term vision” is to get to a point where this policy is no longer necessary and that “we’re no longer spending millions to help correct a 100 percent preventable problem.”

Meanwhile, Governor Tom Wolf (D) recently presented a group of employees from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection with Governor’s Awards for Excellence in recognition of their efforts to develop the first-ever Pennsylvania Litter Action Plan, unveiled in December 2021.

Through coordination with over 100 stakeholders, the employees from both state agencies spearheaded the development of a plan with the goal to shift the focus of Pennsylvania’s response to litter from cleanup to prevention. The plan includes resources and suggestions for the General Assembly, state agencies, local governments, and the public.