Driving Change--Adopt-A-HighwaySeptember 21, 2011
I drive a stretch of highway between Sacramento and my home town in the Central Valley of California on a frequent basis. During one of my recent trips, I was cruising along thinking about what green programs could do to advance greening and get recognition for their efforts. I happened to notice a series of signs along the roadside, Adopt-A-Highway, with names of organizations that had adopted a portion of the highway. I thought to myself, “I wonder what it takes to get your name on a sign and wouldn’t that be kind of cool to see “California Department of Justice Green Committee” on one of those?” I’d noticed these signs over the years and assumed there was a connection to beautification or landscaping, but until this particular day, it had been, quite literally, a passing interest.
I’ve learned since that Adopt-A-Highway programs operate in all fifty states in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand. The brainchild of a highway engineer in Texas in 1985, it spread rapidly across the US. The general idea is that governments spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to clean-up litter from public roadways. Adopt-a-Highway encourages volunteer groups to take on environmental stewardship for a short stretch of road to clean it up and beautify it. In exchange, the group is recognized with a sign crediting the group for their work.
Why do states hire workers to pick up trash from the highways? The obvious answer is that it’s unsightly. But there are practical considerations. The Economic Education Council has some good answers. Trash can pose a traffic hazard, especially items that can blow onto the highway. I’ve seen large plastic bags flying around and wondered what I would do if one ever landed on my windshield and blocked my view of the traffic ahead of me. People expect to drive safely down state roads. Highway litter may injure wildlife, especially small animals that can get trapped in six-pack plastic rings for soda or beer. Third, litter can pose an environmental hazard as toxic chemicals can leak into soil or water as containers decompose. Lastly, highway litter doesn’t attract tourists and all states depend on tourism to support their economies.
The California Waste Management Bulletin published a list of decomposition times for various types of litter. A plastic bag can take up to 20 years to decompose, an aluminum can takes up to 500 years, nylon fabric takes 40 years, a cigarette butt takes up to 5 years, and a glass bottle will decompose only after a million years. Over half of all litter is intentionally tossed and the balance flies off unintentionally from uncovered trucks or unsecured loads.
Adopt-A-Highway is a great project for a green team to organize and coordinate. It can be carried out anytime of the year and affords the organization with an ongoing project for year-round publicity and recognition.
I’ve listed websites for a number of states. If yours isn’t listed, the International Adopt-A-Highway association maintains a roster of all programs in the world. Click here to find a program in your state or country.
West Virginia http://www.dep.wv.gov/dlr/reap/aah /Pages/default.aspx
North Carolina http://keepncbeautiful.org/take-action /adopt-a-highway/
South Carolina http://www.scdot.org/community /adoptahiway.shtml