The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet recently saluted the 12 student winners of its 2023 Adopt-A-Highway Art Contest; winners were chosen from a pool of 900 entries statewide from students aged five to 18.

[Above image by KYTC]

The agency said this annual contest not only allows students to showcase their artistic talents but helps promote the important message of keeping roadsides free of litter.

“We’re thankful to have young and talented Kentuckians lend a hand at sharing an important message to encourage us all to do our part to keep Kentucky beautiful,” said Governor Andy Beshear (D) in a statement.

“Litter-free roadsides do more than protect our scenic byways; they also keep harmful materials from washing off roads and sidewalks and into our drinking water,” added KYTC Secretary Jim Gray. “We’re grateful to have students be part of the solution of maintaining a clean and safe environment.”

KYTC said the top finishers in each of the four age divisions for the 2023 contest – which centered on the theme “Can it, Kentucky” – will receive a $100 gift card, while second- and third place finishers will each receive a $50 gift card. First through third-place recipients for all age groups will have their pieces displayed at the KYTC Office Building in Frankfort, KY.

State departments of transportation across the country use a variety of student-focused contests and programs to engage elementary- through high-school students in roadway litter reduction efforts.

For example, the Missouri Department of Transportation is now accepting entries from students in kindergarten through 12th grade to participate in the agency’s 2024 “Yes You CAN Make Missouri Litter-Free” trash-can-decorating contest.

The contest – part of MoDOT’s annual “No MOre Trash!” statewide litter campaign, held annually in April – encourages school-aged kids to join in the fight against litter by decorating a large trash can with the “No MOre Trash!” logo and a litter prevention message using a variety of creative materials. Schools, or home school programs, may submit one trash can entry in each competition category: grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8 – and new this year is grades 9-12.

First-place winners from each competition category receive $200 awarded to the sponsoring schools. All first-place winners are then eligible for a grand prize of $600 and a trophy awarded to the sponsoring school. There is no entry fee for the contest, MoDOT noted in a statement, and participating school groups must submit a completed entry form online with up to three photos and a release form by March 15.

State DOTs also engage in other initiatives to remove trash and debris from the roadways under their jurisdiction.

For example, the Mississippi Department of Transportation recently launched a new anti-litter webpage as part of a renewed statewide anti-littering campaign that kicked off in August – a “one-stop hub” that contains information about the state’s Adopt-a-Highway program, Mississippi litter statistics and resources, stormwater pollution information, anti-litter resources for school teachers, and much more.

Then there is the Tennessee Department of Transportation, which recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of its “Litter Grant Program.” That program – started in 1983 – provides funding to all 95 counties within the state to pay for a wide variety of litter-related efforts, such enforcement; cleanup and recycling events; and litter prevention education campaigns.

Meanwhile, in April, the Illinois Department of Transportation launched a new public outreach effort called “Think Before You Throw!” as part of its ongoing awareness campaign to reduce littering on state highways and roads.

The “Think Before You Throw!” initiative aims to reduce roadside litter along the state’s more than 150,000 miles of roads by raising awareness of the negative environment impact of trash, for both state residents and the nearly 100 million tourists who visit annually, the agency said.

And, in March, the Maryland Department of Transportation launched “Operation Clean Sweep Maryland,” a new initiative that seeks to nearly double the frequency of litter pickup and mowing efforts along state roads.

This new effort – which began in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., regions – is under the purview of the Maryland State Highway Administration, one of Maryland DOT’s modal divisions.