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Missouri looks for help getting all that litter off St. Louis roadways

Adopt-A-Highway volunteers pick up trash along a Missouri highway.
Missouri Department of Transportation
Adopt-A-Highway volunteers pick up trash along a Missouri highway.

The Missouri Department of Transportation is preparing for spring cleaning along interstate and highway corridors. The department has noticed more trash along roadways in the St. Louis region this year.

According to a Missouri Department of Natural Resources summary of solid waste disposal throughout the state in 2016-17, 5,764,654 tons of trash was hauled to waste management facilities.

In 2022, MoDOT spent $7.7 million to remove litter from nearly 34,000 state highway miles. That total is expected to reach $9 million next year. Every month, interstate sweepers pick up an average of 30 tons of trash, according to the department.

“It's everything from tire debris, car parts from crashes, old mattresses, even Styrofoam cups and plastic bags,” said Michelle Forneris, a MoDOT assistant district engineer. “It's just a variety of debris and litter that is noticeable along our shoulders and roadsides.”

A study by Keep America Beautiful in 2020 determined that there were close to 50 billion pieces of litter along U.S. roadways. Just in the St. Louis area, between St. Charles County, St. Louis County and St. Louis, MoDOT said cleaning crews are picking up tons of trash.

“We just disposed of over 200 tons of litter from sweeping the inside shoulders of I-70, 170 and I-55,” said Forneris.

As the weather gets warmer, MoDOT will host a variety of litter cleanup events during its No MOre Trash Bash. Volunteers and Adopt-A-Highway sponsors are invited to help, the department said, but the best solutions are for drivers to hold all trash until they can dispose of it in proper receptacles and for people hauling waste to better secure their loads.

“There are various city ordinances that require loads that are in transport to be secured,” Forneris said. “Your trailers without sides should be completely covered by tarps. Your truck tailgates should be placed in the upright position and not disposing of any items that can be hanging off of a vehicle in any way.”

Britny Cordera is a poet and journalist based in St. Louis and is currently serving as a newsroom intern at St. Louis Public Radio.