An unwanted record: NCDOT picks up more trash than ever in 2021, and the year isn’t over

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With more than two months to go, the N.C. Department of Transportation has set an annual record for the amount of litter collected from along the state’s roads and highways.

NCDOT staff and contractors and volunteers in state-sponsored programs have picked up more than 11 million pounds of trash from roadways since Jan. 1. That compares to the previous annual record of 10.5 million pounds in 2019.

“This is the kind of record we never wanted to break,” Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette said in a written statement. “I am very proud of the hard-working employees, contractors and volunteers who’ve helped us collect this trash, but litter shouldn’t be there in the first place. Keeping North Carolina beautiful starts with everyone doing their part.”

NCDOT has made litter cleanup a priority this year, after hearing complaints from the public. The coronavirus pandemic forced cancellation of volunteer cleanup efforts last year, at the same time that financial problems at NCDOT caused the department to cut back on roadside maintenance, including litter pickup.

The result was a noticeable trail of plastic cups, fast food wrappers, bottles, cans and other debris along the state’s highways.

NCDOT has several strategies for cleaning up litter. Aside from its own employees and contractors, the department created a Sponsor-A-Highway Program that allows businesses, groups and individuals to pay for litter removal along sections of highway in exchange for recognition on roadside signs. In addition, NCDOT’s Adopt-A-Highway Program enlists tens of thousands of volunteers who agree to clean a section of road at least four times a year.

Altogether, NCDOT says it has spent $15.8 million on litter cleanup so far this year.

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