High-school-age youths return to Washington roadsides next week to pick up litter tossed by motorists.
Last summer, for the first time in 35 years, Ecology Youth Corps (EYC) workers did not pick up litter due to budget reductions. “We are pleased to have our youth back to help keep Washington’s highways clean this summer,” said Peter Christiansen, a manager for the Waste 2 Resources Program. “Their absence last summer really showed with much dirtier roadsides.”
ECY’s ranks increase each July and August as teens aged 14 to 17 work in four-week paid stints. These are highly sought-after jobs.
Typically, for each youth hired, 10 youth applied. “We hire strongly motivated youth,” said Christiansen. “This is a really tough job, and we need to know they can work hard under difficult conditions and stay safe.”
Statewide, 300 teens are gearing up to join 35 young adults who work spring through fall. The younger crews clean litter from freeway shoulders, while the older corps members specialize in freeway medians, which are more hazardous to clean.
The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology), which operates the litter cleanup program, urges motorists to use extra caution when they see the orange “Ecology Youth Working” signs along state highways.
Steven Williams, who coordinates the EYC in Ecology’s seven-county Northwest region , said: “Every driver needs to stay alert when passing a litter crew, and we work hard to keep them safe. “We’re proud of the work our youth crews do to help keep our environment clean. They provide a valuable service and learn great work skills in what often is their first real job.”
The young people earn minimum wage. A tax on items that contribute to the litter problem supports Washington’s litter-control efforts.
Typically, EYC collects more than a million pounds of litter each year from roadsides and medians across the state, with nearly half collected in King, Kitsap, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties. This area’s residents and travelers are not especially prone to littering, according to Williams, but the high traffic volume translates to high litter volumes.
EYC crews will work along I-5, I-405, I-90 and state routes 2, 9, 11, 18, 20, 99, 167, 509, 516, 518, 520, 525, 526, 542, 548, 599 and 900.
EYC is an important part of an overall Ecology-coordinated effort that removes more than seven million pounds of litter and illegally dumped materials statewide. Other participants include county and city litter-cleanup programs and the state departments of Natural Resources, Transportation, and Corrections.
Williams said, “We’d, of course, rather see less litter in the first place. We pick up things off the roadside that easily could have been recycled or properly disposed of.”
Littering can draw fines up to $1,025. Fines for illegal dumping are $1,000 to $5,000 plus jail time.
Editor’s Note: just don’t litter – it can be very expensive and much more importantly, is bad for OUR environment.