Pike’s lack of recycling program may be tied to overwhelming litter rates
Highway workers and tourism officials see connection, but private hauler says the trash is coming from visitors
By Emily Andresen
Recycling services came to a halt in Pike County in August 2012. County officials were responding to a four-year period before than when costs were going up while state funding was going down.
At its peak, according to a 2012 county report, Pike made nearly $190,000 in profits. At its lowest point, the county lost $590,000.
County officials saw no other solution to the widening shortfall than raising taxes abd so decided to get rid of the recycling program altogether. It was then left to each resident to manage their own recycling. Without the convenience of a local recycling center, would residents make the effort?
A year earlier, in 2011, Pike saw a 25 percent increase in recycling after moving to single-stream recycling, which allows residents to throw all of their recyclables into one bin rather than sort them into separate bins for paper, plastic, and other materials. Since convenience was so important to people, the end of countywide recycling led to worry that the extra effort required to make individual arrangements would lead residents to abandon recycling completely.
The county provided residents with a list of recycling haulers. Ultimately, though, it was up to each resident to make the call and pay the bill.
Litter rates tick upSix years later, residents have adjusted. Many have opted to continue recycling through their own private haulers. Some chose not to participate at all.
And, coincidentally or not, more trash is ending up on roadsides, especially along Route 739. Megan Vennie, Pike County’s Adopt a Highway Coordinator, believes there's a connection.
She said it's a struggle to keep roads clean. Calls pour in daily to report trash-filled streets, she said — too many for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to keep up with. In winter, it's harder than in summer for PennDOT to wrangle volunteers to venture outside to pick up trash, she said.
PennDOT does its best but simply lacks the labor force needed to keep up with litterbugs, Vennie said. Small bits of trash, like soda cans and fast-food cups, are tossed from car windows, she said, but full bags of waste are also being discarded on local roadsides. Vennie says many local residents who want to avoid paying haulers are just throwing their trash bags onto the roads, trusting that someone else will take care of them.
Litter rates have gotten so out of hand that the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau has launched a campaign, “Pick Up the Poconos,” which urges residents and visitors not only to quit their littering habit but to pick up any trash they may see and properly dispose of it. The bureau's team members have adopted two roadways in the Poconos, including one in Pike. "Pick Up the Poconos" has organized many volunteer days: some have removed more than 700 bags of litter from local highways and byways.
“The Pocono Mountains is known for its natural beauty, and we want to keep it that way,” said Kelly Shannon, public relations and social media manager of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau and head of "Pick Up the Poconos." Thirty-seven percent of jobs in the four-county region are connected to tourism, which makes the Poconos more dependent on the travel industry as a job provider than any other tourism region in Pennsylvania, she said.
“We haven’t concluded any drop in tourism rates associated with the littering abundance, but we certainly don’t want it to get to the point where it would," Shannon said.
Shannon agrees not having a recycling program may be contributing to increased litter rates. She also pointed to commuters and tourists, debris falling off dump trucks, animals knocking over garbage cans, and the general lack of enforcement.
Market for recyclables plungesJerry Cifor is senior vice president and director of County Waste and Recycling, which he says is the dominant residential hauling program in Pike County. County Waste is currently responsible for some 56 percent (3,017) of all households in the 18337 zip code. Of those customers, only 5 percent opt out of the recycling program even with the additional charge, Cifor said.
China used to buy the bulk of materials recycled in the United States, but that is no longer the case. It's harder than ever now to find corporations to purchase them. Because of this, Cifor said, it's been a very difficult year for recycling. This explains the need for the additional fees haulers charge to pick up recyclables along with garbage destined for landfills, he said. County Waste‘s fees range from an additional $3 to $6 per pick-up.
Cifor does not pin the high rates of litter on the cessation of countywide recycling. He finds it hard to believe residents would mess up their own neighborhoods, especially because Pike County is so rural. Most of this litter is likely from seasonal guests, he said, and from not those who live here.
Do your partPennDOT offers a variety of different roadside cleanup opportunities, ranging from long-term commitments to single day cleanups. Garbage bags, gloves, and vests can be provided for volunteers. If you have any interest in volunteering to help PennDOT’s efforts of keeping local streets clean, contact Megan Vennie at 570-296-7193 or by email at email@example.com.