SEATTLE — Washington Ecology Department officials say budget cuts to the state’s litter fund will likely mean more trash on state highways and fewer youths hired this summer to pick up the rubbish.
The state budget enacted earlier this month cut $4.5 million from litter pickup and prevention programs over the next two years to help close a $9 billion deficit.
Statewide, that means about 100 fewer youths will be hired for litter duty this summer.
It also mean the state won’t be aggressively promoting its “Litter and It Will Hurt” campaign with radio spots or television advertising to deter litterbugs.
“We’re going to be picking up less, and not preventing as much, and that will mean more litter,” said Megan Warfield, Ecology’s litter programs coordinator. Her job was eliminated in the 2009-2011 state operating budget that goes into effect July 1.
Ecology estimates that more than 12 million pounds of trash are tossed or blown onto interstate, state and county roads each year.
The Ecology Youth Corps, the state’s largest youth employment program, put in about 35,000 hours last year picking up bottles, cigarette butts and other highway trash.
With about 100 fewer youths hired this year, the corps will work 45 percent fewer hours, said Steven Williams, a regional litter administrator with Ecology.
The youth crews will work each day. But with more road to cover, they’ll skip the small stuff, picking up items bigger than the lid of a paper cup, he said.
“Even though litter seems to be a low priority in a lot of ways — it’s not a human threat — people don’t like to drive along filthy dirty roads, and they let us know,” Williams said.
The state relies on a litter tax to pay for waste reduction, recycling and litter control efforts. The state collected about $9.1 million in the fiscal year that ended June 2008, about 15 percent more than the previous year.
The 2009-11 budget shifted about $4.5 million from that account to the general fund to pay for other state operations, and specified cuts to litter pickup and prevention programs, Warfield said.
Counties got some money in the upcoming budget for local cleanup programs. State prison inmates and volunteers with the Adopt-a-Highway program will still hit the roads, but program officials say they don’t go out as regularly as the youth crews.
Radio and TV spots running in recent weeks will be the last for the “Litter and It Will Hurt” ad campaign for a while.
State Patrol troopers, however, will continue to enforce state law that fines litterbugs for discarding their rubbish. The state also will continue its antilitter hot line, 1-866-LITTER1, to report violators.
“We get more complaints about litter than anything else,” Williams said.