Yes, one person can adopt a stretch of highway!

I run on our road sometimes, and the litter always bothered me. I started picking some of it up, but there was so much that it would have cost a lot to dispose of. The Adopt a Highway program sounded like a perfect solution, and seeing Pamlico Joe's page gave me a precedent for doing it solo. "One person can make a difference!"

My stretch is 2.3 miles. It takes between 3 and 8 hours, depending on how much trash there is. My old system involved plastic shopping bags, but now I carry two big blue Ikea bags, one for recyclables and one for garbage. When one gets full, I transfer to the large bags the state gives me, which I carry in a backpack (since I'm short, keeping the big garbage bags off the ground when carrying them was tiring). After walking the route, I drive it to collect the trash and put it under my sign. The recyclables I sort and take the recycling centerpick up the bags with Plus, I can't stomach throwing away something that can be recycled, but two big bags is twice as difficult.

It's a dirty, sometimes smelly job, but I love being outside and I'm always curious about what I'll find. It's a mini research project! For example, on my very first pickup the predominant "food" represented was Slim Jims. Slim Jim wrappers haven't dominated so much in the next two, so perhaps they are just particularly long-lived.

Two things that would really help keep Pennsylvania beautiful: a bottle bill, and less smoking. A third of the litter is cans and bottles (about two-thirds alcoholic beverages, maybe a little more). The empty quarts of Jim Beam, neatly recapped, worry me; I hope I'm not driving when that person is (it feels like one person who's tossing all of them, something about the M.O....) Cigarette packs are the most-represented non-food. I don't pick up cigarette butts, or the route would take me 3 days.

I've started keeping a list of the more unusual finds:

April 2004 update: only 2 Slim Jims, no Jim Beam. Instead, Mr. Boston's Blackberry Brandy.

August 2004: still 2 Slim Jims! Proof that the smoking/littering link continues even after quitting: at least 8 empty nicotine gum packs. Belatedly, I wish I'd tracked the number of bags I've picked up since the beginning to do a running total. Table is below.

October 2007: Someone stole my name sign. It took two years to get replaced "because of the election" (this was idiocy at the state level, not my local contact).

DateBags of trashBags of recyclables

In Pennsylvania, get in touch with your district to find out your local contact for Adopt-a-Highway. You commit for two years, four pickups a year (one in April, one in October, and two whenever you choose). The program supplies bags, gloves, safety vests, postcards to report pickups, a sign if you want it, and a training video.

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Copyright © 2002. Hilary Caws-Elwitt. Revised -- November 8, 2009.