The orange bag brigade

By Posted on Jan 09 2019 | By

Adopt-A-Highway volunteers labor to beautify the land

The numbers are remarkable: 52 billion pieces of litter cluttering the Nation’s highways and byways. That’s 6,700 pieces of stuff per mile. Consider one plastic bottle can take 450 years to decompose and a glass container one million years. This is no short-term problem.

Moreover, cleaning up the mess costs $11.5 billion annually.

It’s hard for most of us to fathom someone tossing soda bottles, beer cans and fast food detritus onto our verdant landscape. Yet it occurs around the clock, seven days a week. Over 80 per cent of littering is done intentionally.

Decades long educational efforts have had a positive impact, significantly reducing the litter rate in the U.S. but the reduction still leaves our roadways flashing and glittering with tons of trash.

The problem becomes more visible in winter and when lush vegetation withers and exposes the underbelly of motoring along the Commonwealth’s highways.

The mess is national in scope and a partial solution to the problem was discovered in Texas in the early 1980s. James Evans, an engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation saw debris flying out of a pickup truck bed.

Litter control was expensive so Evans enlisted local volunteer groups to clean up sections of the state’s highways. The Adopt-A-Highway program was born.

Today, 49 states have programs in place to keep America beautiful.


The Orange Brigade

Here in Virginia, Joe Williams with the Virginia Department of Transportation oversees the Adopt-A-Highway program. It was established in 1988 to keep our highways free of litter and promote the safety, convenience and enjoyment of travel and to protect the public investment in the highway system.

“Our goal is to preserve and enhance the scenic beauty of our highways and adjacent areas,” said Williams. We partner with a nonprofit outfit called Keep Virginia Beautiful.”

The organization engages Virginians to improve the state’s natural and scenic environment. Volunteers are asked to sign up for a three-year commitment and require two cleanups a year. After individuals or groups report two trash sweeps, they can have signage placed along their assigned roadway with their name on it.

Orange trash bags and vests are provided to the collectors by local VDOT offices. After each collection report is filed, a VDOT truck picks up the collected bags.

Statewide there are 1,223 volunteer groups with 15,370 participants. In 2018, they cleaned 1,393 miles of roadway collecting 22,750 bags of trash while contributing 34,928 volunteer work hours.

That’s a lot of trash none of us had to look at as we motored to and from our destinations.

Here in Fauquier County, 35 groups with 196 volunteers collected 337 bags of garbage from 266 miles of roadway while

donating 132 hours of their time.

Virginia saves $1.35 million with volunteer trash collection.

So what type of trash do volunteers typically encounter? Beer and soda bottles rate high on the list but plastic bags and fast food refuse along with a variety of empty containers are also found in abundance.

One interesting observation is that spent wine bottles are rarely seen. One reason may be because those between ages 19 and 35 are three times more likely to litter than the over 50 crowd.

Or could wine consumers simply be more socially conscious? Our county vineyards would like to think so.

Angry Rednecks Against Littering
Yes, you read that correctly. There is an Adopt-A-Highway group in Fauquier County called Angry Rednecks Against Littering. Max and Penny Greiner have labored for 26 years cleaning up local roadways under that very moniker. Today they are responsible for three two-mile sections in the Catlett area.

“We moved here in 1991 because it was such a scenic area. But we soon noticed all the litter on the roads when we took our boys to baseball and basketball practice,” said Max Greiner. “There was a lot of talk among the local folks about cleaning up the roads but no one ever followed through. In 1992, we officially signed up as a volunteer family.”

So how did the unusual name come about? “I come from a deep redneck background and we don’t claim to be something we’re not.” That said, Greiner recently retired as a engineer working at the Pentagon so his redneck bona fides have been nurtured beyond any humble beginnings.

The Greiners also lay claim to one of the more unique Adopt-A-Highway reputations: their road sign is the most swiped in the state. “Our sign has been stolen at least 14 times over the years.

“People have come by and pulled it out with their tractors and other ways to possess a souvenir for their bars and garages. VDOT has been spectacular about replacing them. They are now embedded in concrete with steel posts,” said a smiling Greiner.

A note of caution to those tempted to become a souvenir hunter. In Virginia, stealing a state sign is a Class 1 misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in jail or a $2,500 fine or both.

For individuals or groups interested in joining the cadre of county volunteers helping to keep Fauquier roadways beautiful, Linda Wilson, Adopt-A-Highway coordinator, is the person to call or write.

Wilson can be reached at (540) 347-6448 or linda.wilson@vdot.virginia.gov. Her office is located at 457 E. Shirly Ave.

Wilson also provides the needed orange bags and vests for a properly attired volunteer. Additional information can also be found at https://keepvirginiabeautiful.org/

If you are considering ways to contribute to the commonweal, removing litter from our scenic byways is an exceptional way to serve. Consider grabbing a bag and making the world a cleaner place to live and drive.

Published in the January 9, 2018 edition of the Fauquier Times.  

Categories : HAGARTY TALES