COLUMBUS, Ohio — A quick drive through the streets of Central Ohio will reveal one glaring issue: litter.
The melting snow has revealed piles of trash, many of them along interstate ramps and near intersections.
“People see a piece of litter, and so they go, oh, it’s already littered, my other piece of litter is not going to do anything else, and so they pile on, and the more litter we see, the more it compounds, and it gets worse and worse and worse,” said Aryeh Alex, manager for Keep Columbus Beautiful.
Keep America Beautiful’s 2020 National Litter Study estimated that 50 billion pieces of litter along the country’s roads and waterways amount to 152 pieces of litter per person in the United States.
“I think a lot of people think that, once it’s out of their car, out of their hands, that someone will clean it up for them, and unfortunately there’s so much litter that that’s not possible. We all have to do our own part,” Alex said.
And Keep Columbus Beautiful volunteers have been trying. Despite a slowdown because of the pandemic, more than 11,000 volunteers picked up more than one-quarter million pounds of litter last year alone.
Alex said, if more people simply sent an hour or two a week picking up litter, it would make a big difference.
“When the snow melts, the litter emerges, and what’s really unfortunate is we’re seeing a lot of rain and a lot of flooding, and when that happens, this litter gets swept up in that rain and that flood water, and it gets pushed into our wastewater systems and in our sewers and into places like our riverways and waterways,” he said.
The city sends out people every year to perform a litter index. They drive every road in the city, giving them a ranking, with 1 being the worst and 4 being the best. Residents who want to see their street’s rankings can check out an online map.
Meanwhile, ODOT crews focus on interstates and state routes when it comes to litter cleanup.
But District 6 Public Information Officer Brooke Ebersole said the agency’s No. 1 priority right now is patching potholes ahead of the impending winter weather.
And the same workers who act as plow drivers also are pothole patchers and littler picker-uppers. There are only so many employees who can do any one job at one time. So the litter problem will be pushed back until the weather gets warmer.
And it is quite the problem.
Last year, ODOT and its partners picked up 454,819 bags of other people’s trash across the state. That’s almost 23 bags of trash for every seat in Nationwide Arena. Those who want to volunteer can sign up to adopt a highway and pick up litter four times a year.