Volunteer groups across Western Pa. mark Earth Week with litter cleanup
Boris Weinstein years ago made it his mission to pick up trash that people discard on city streets. He wants Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto to simply pick up the telephone.
“The mayor is not doing the job on our litter problem, and I challenge him on that,” said Shadyside’s Weinstein, who at 83 still picks up litter several days a week. “But I can’t even get a meeting with him. I am frustrated.”
Litter is one of many issues the city faces, said Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty.
The Public Works Department must focus as well on patching potholes, resurfacing streets, installing bike lanes and opening parks.
“Litter clean up is a major priority, but it has to be balanced,” McNulty said. “City workers are doing the best they can, around the clock in some situations. The mayor is happy with the work they are doing.”
This week, Weinstein will join thousands of volunteers in annual clean-up efforts organized around Earth Day.
Citizens Against Litter, “an organization of one” as Weinstein calls the entity he founded a decade ago, counted more than 400 volunteer community groups that have cleanup days planned around Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, from Allison Park and Cheswick to North Versailles and Wilkinsburg. Other groups plan to clean up communities in Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
“I don’t understand why people think they can just throw it out of the window,” said Christy Thomas, city clerk in Washington, which hopes to draw 250 volunteers for its spring cleanup May 9. “It’s not just going to disintegrate.”
Ordinary people can clean up most of the “everyday litter,” Weinstein said. But he said local governments need to address other types of litter: illegal dumping and businesses or residences with subpar waste containers or trash and other debris they neglect to clean from their properties. All are illegal.
“The whole problem is enforcement,” Weinstein said. “We have to attack all the causes of litter.”
In January 2014, he submitted to Peduto’s transition committee a plan for a pilot “Zero Litter Enforcement” campaign to focus on cleaning up one neighborhood. Weinstein said he has heard nothing since.
Winter’s snow melt revealed the annual bloom of trash, debris and junk on roads, parks and hillsides throughout the city and elsewhere.
Crushed auto parts, shredded tires and construction debris littered shoulders of the region’s parkways and interstates. Blue grocery bags, plastic bottles, cans and fast-food containers stretched from the Fort Duquesne Bridge to the Mon-Fayette Expressway, where a discarded laundry basket, Styrofoam cooler and cardboard boxes joined the normal cache of trash.
PennDOT crews in recent weeks began cleaning some roadways, including portions of the Parkway East, and city Public Works employees cleared out significant debris dumped in several North Side locations, among others.
Litter-related complaints to the city’s 311 Response Center have increased from 120 in 2012 to 170 in 2014. So far this year, the center has fielded 90 litter calls, officials said. Pittsburgh police could not provide figures for annual litter-related citations or arrests.
Four cases have been prosecuted based on camera footage from some of the 483 illegal dump sites identified around the city. The first conviction occurred in August.
Pittsburgh employs an anti-litter coordinator to investigate overflowing garbage containers in business districts and illegal dump sites, but the city doesn’t itemize how much is spent annually on litter prevention, said Marcelle Newman, assistant director of Public Works.
“Litter is a big issue. It’s unsightly. It’s terrible,” she said. “But I don’t see it as just a city problem. It seems to be a problem everywhere this time of year.”
Lloyd Corder said he increasingly sees litter as he drives Route 65 from his home in Ben Avon to work in Pittsburgh.
“It’s like somebody took their trash can and emptied it out. That’s not just from the snow melting,” said Corder, 51, a marketing researcher and consultant. Corder said people get used to living with litter, which makes matters worse.
McNulty, Peduto’s spokesman, said some litter frustrations arise because different agencies are responsible for various roads.
Route 65 belongs to PennDOT, said agency spokesman Steve Cowan. It is unclear when it will be cleaned.
PennDOT last year spent $930,000 to clean up litter around Allegheny County, figures show. The agency paid nearly $300,000 combined to remove litter in Beaver, Butler, Greene, Fayette, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
“Just imagine what that $1 million could be used for,” said Myrna Newman, executive director of Allegheny CleanWays.
Allegheny CleanWays formed in 2000 to help combat illegal dumping and other issues.
Last week, Keep Pittsburgh Beautiful/Allegheny CleanWays conducted its first “Community Appearance Index” to assess Pittsburgh’s cleanliness when it comes to litter, illegal signs, graffiti, abandoned vehicles and outside storage. The group surveyed 50 sites — rating city neighborhoods on a scale of one, the best, to four, the worst. Pittsburgh overall rated 2.46.
“Every spring, we cringe and say it’s not working. It seems worse every year, but maybe that is from short-term memory,” Myrna Newman said.
The survey will be repeated each of the next four years to establish a baseline. In June, the group plans to meet with Peduto and other city officials to begin developing a strategic plan for the litter problem, Myrna Newman said.
“This is our home,” she said. “We have to keep it tidy.”
Jason Cato is a writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or [email protected].