Cleaning trash from area roadways may not be a glamorous job, but it is one that has attracted 15 Adopt-a-Highway groups in Tom Green County to volunteer their time this Saturday as part of this year’s “Don’t mess with Texas” Trash-Off.

Catherine Yeulet

In the 15-county San Angelo District, more than 600 volunteers and 53 groups are expected to participate in events in Ballinger, Big Lake, Eden , Junction, Sonora, Ozona, Robert Lee, Rocksprings and Leakey. Last year these groups  collectively picked up 4.4 tons of litter.

The annual event is a partnership between the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and Keep Texas Beautiful. It is the single, largest one-day cleanup event in the state when thousands of volunteers pick up litter on roadways to keep Texas highways clean and beautiful. The cleanup is conducted in conjunction with the Great American Cleanup, which takes place annually across the nation from March 1 through May 31.

Every year more than 1 billion pieces of litter accumulate on Texas highways leaving taxpayers paying to clean it up. This litter is not only ugly but also expensive. Last year, TxDOT paid contractors $160,000 to pick up 6.8 tons of litter just in Tom Green County- statewide the agency spent more than $32 million on litter pickup. It is estimated that the Adopt-a-Highway groups, who clean their two-mile section of highway four times each year, save TxDOT $3 million dollars each year statewide.

“Research has shown that people are less likely to litter when the roadside is clean,” said Karen Threlkeld, public information officer for the San Angelo District.  “We want everyone to have pride in this great state of ours. Keeping our roadways free from litter is a great way for all of us to come together to do our part to protect the beauty of our state.”

Last year, more than 27,000 Trash-Off volunteers participated statewide in the cleanup, which is Texas’ largest annual roadway and community improvement effort. A total of 235 events were held, and 3,709 miles of highway were cleared of litter and debris. Volunteers collected more than 1.4 million pounds of trash.

The Trash-Off is just one part of TxDOT’s litter prevention programs, which include the “Don’t mess with Texas” public service campaign, Adopt-a-Highway and a grassroots partnership with Keep Texas Beautiful. These three programs work in conjunction to keep the state clean and to change the attitudes and behavior of would-be litterers.

The “Don’t mess with Texas” Trash-Off began in 1986 as a call to action to refrain from littering on one designated day. In 1987, the event was expanded to include litter pickup by encouraging all Texas Adopt-a-Highway groups to collect roadside litter on the day of the Trash-Off. Keep Texas Beautiful joined the effort in 1993 to include cleanup activities in Texas communities. The event now has spread nationwide.