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Highway Litter

(Published January 2004)

Keeping our highways clean is a difficult challenge. It is likely that we have all accidentally littered. The composition of trash found along highways characterizes the most frequent litterers, and reflects on our society. Similar results have emerged from many studies.

Cigarette butts along with other tobacco-related items are by far the most abundant trash found along highways. If smokers insist on compromising their health by smoking, they at least need to learn to use their ash trays and dispose of the contents properly (not in a parking lot).

After tobacco products, refuse from the fast food industry is the most abundant trash found alongside highways. Beverage cups, caps and straws, along with product packaging are the most common items, about equally divided between plastic and more easily degradable paper. Household items, especially food-related, constitute the next most abundant category of debris. In most cases the brand name is identifiable. Aluminum cans are usually obvious because they are shiny, but they constitute only about 10% of all highway debris. Glass only contributes only a few percent to the debris. Items associated with smoking and eating make up nearly two-thirds of the debris collected from typical highways during clean-up.

Clearly, the fast-food industry, including convenience stores, needs to be more responsible in using easily degradable packaging, in trying to educate people, especially children, not to litter the roadside and in taking responsibility by helping to clean up the highways around their stores. In Northumberland County, the only food-related enterprise that has adopted a highway is Cockrell’s Creek Seafood Deli and none of the fast-food stores in Kilmarnock have adopted highways in Lancaster County. But it is ultimately the litterers themselves who are responsible for almost of all our highway trash, and who are subject to fines for their actions.

In addition to food and smoking-related items, just about anything can be found alongside highways. Hubcaps are common, and certainly accidental. It is difficult to understand, however, how a battery can fall out of a vehicle accidentally. We must conclude, unfortunately, that a few people consciously use the highways as dumps.

In Northumberland County, 169 miles of highway have been adopted by 70 sponsors at the end of 2003 (this Stewardship Tip was originally published in January, 2004, and some of the subsequent statements may no longer apply). Citizen concern for clean highways is exemplary in Northumberland County, where there are more sponsors than in the other three Northern Neck counties combined. But there are some glaring problems. A visitor journeying along our major highways will currently find 7 stretches along US 360 and VA 200, 201 and 202 with blue Adopt-a-Highway signs announcing they are “OPEN FOR ADOPTION.” The white “OPEN FOR ADOPTION” plates, installed over the previous sponsor’s name, stand out like sore thumbs and announce that some sponsor stopped cleaning the highway, and nobody will assume the responsibility. Surely, we can do better!

Here is a list of abandoned adoption stretches on major highways or visible from them, in addition to two stretches never adopted, together with the names of adjoining adopters.

  • US 360 between VA 657 and VA 703 (Cockrell’s Creek Seafood Deli)

  • US 360 at Burgess, between VA 646N (Chesapeake Bay Garden Club) and VA 640N

  • US 360 west of Burgess between VA 640N and VA 752 (Macedonia Brotherhood Club)

  • US 360 between VA 612 (Northumberland Senior FAA Chapter) and VA 614 (Coan River Marina) – never adopted

  • US 360 between VA 202 and the county line

  • VA 200 between VA 609 at Wicomico Church (NAPS) and VA 606 (Lancaster-Northumberland Master Gardeners)

  • VA 201 south of Heathsville

  • VA 202 east of Callao between USMC League #1062 and James E. Headley Oyster Company – never adopted

  • VA 640 north of US 360

Will you help? For businesses it is great free advertisement along heavily traveled roads. The requirements are simple, and can be found at or by calling 1-800-PRIDE-VA.

Here is a list of current sponsors in Northumberland County provided by VDOT, as of December 2003:

  • Acheson Family

  • Afton United Methodist Church

  • Bay Harbor Property Owners

  • Bay Quarter Shores Youth

  • Bayview Estates & White Sands Harbor (A.C.T.)

  • Bluegreen Properties of VA

  • “The Boy Scouts”

  • Callao Ruritan Club

  • Chesapeake Bay Garden Club

  • Coan Baptist Youth Group

  • Coan River Marina

  • Cockrell’s Creek Seafood Deli

  • Community of Lara

  • Dividing Creek Association

  • Friends and Neighbors of Bogey Neck Road

  • Friends in Horn Harbor

  • Garka Family

  • Graceland Farms

  • Greater Wicomico Sportsman Club

  • Hacks Neck Hunt Club

  • Henderson Methodist Youth Fellowship

  • Highland Point Community

  • Hull Harbour

  • James E. Headley Oyster Company

  • Jetty’s Reach

  • Jones-Ash Funeral Home

  • Kauffman/Simmons Family

  • Keyser Brothers Seafood

  • Kingston Crew

  • Knights Run Hunt Club

  • Lake Packing Co., Inc.

  • Lancaster-Northumberland Master Gardeners

  • Landmark Services Inc.

  • Locksley Hall Estates/Forest Green Association

  • Loonan Family

  • Lottsburg VDOT Team

  • Macedonia Brotherhood Club

  • Memory of Otis F. Palmer

  • Men of Sherwood Forest

  • Men of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Fleeton

  • Mid-County Volunteer Rescue Squad

  • Neighbors Along 609

  • Neighbors for a Clean Highway

  • Northern Neck Center of the MPNN-CSB

  • NAPS

  • Northumberland Junior Women’s club

  • Northumberland Lions Club

  • Northumberland Lodge 220

  • Northumberland Preservation, Inc.

  • Northumberland Senior FAA Chapter

  • Old Bundick Steamboat Wharf

  • Omega Protein

  • Owl Haven Farm

  • Peaceful Point Farm

  • Pride of Virginia Seafood

  • Reedville Fishermen’s Museum

  • Rehoboth Church Ruritan Club

  • Remo Hunt Club

  • Rivers Knoll Home Owners Association

  • Scripture Farms

  • Shiloh Baptist Church

  • Smithland Royal Ambassadors and Brotherhood

  • Stratford Harbour Property Owner’s Assoc., Inc.

  • Sunnybank Property Owners

  • Swann’s Motor Service

  • The Wirts and The Johnstons

  • Tides on the Chesapeake Association

  • Tidewater Hunt Club

  • Timberlake Plumbing

  • USMC League #1062


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