Good Question: Who Picks Up The Trash Along The Highways?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It happens every spring.  The snow melts and what’s piled up along the roads over the winter begins to appear. Carla from Edina noticed the trash along the highways, so she wants to know: Who picks it up? Good Question.

We can’t just blame the people throwing trash out their car windows for the 1.2 million pounds of trash collected along 10,000 miles of Minnesota state highways each year. Last year, the Minnesota State Patrol gave 26 citations and 30 warnings for littering.

“Sometimes people’s garbage cans are blowing over and that can be carried in the wind and it gets caught in those fences,” says MnDOT’s Kirsten Klein. “A lot of people tend not to secure their loads that are on the back of their truck, that can blow out onto the roadway.”

MnDOT crews pick up trash along the busier roadways like I-94, I-35W and I-35E out of safety concerns.  MnDOT also contracts with counties for low-risk offenders in the Sentencing to Serve program to help with clean-up as well. But, the bulk of the work – 75 percent —  is done by Adopt-A-Highway volunteer crews.  MnDOT asks those groups to go out twice a year between April and December.

Generally, MnDOT does not close highways for pick-up work. But, in 2016, a volunteer group did pick up trash along I-94 when the road was closed for the weekend due to scheduled construction work.

Klein says the job of picking up trash is never-ending and can be made more challenging in windy conditions.  Minnesotans will call MnDOT asking why the certain roads are littered two weeks after they were picked up.

Then the wind comes and the next week…

“You can’t tell they’ve been out there,” says Klein.

MnDOT estimates Adopt-A-Highway programs save the agency $7-million  per year.  There is a wait list for the volunteer groups in the Twin Cities, but plenty of places to adopt outside the metro area. You can find more information at MnDOT’s website.

More from Heather Brown
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