State Department of Ecology nixes litter hotline amid cuts
July 19, 2011
The state Department of Ecology tossed a statewide litter hotline amid budget cuts.
Starting July 15, callers to the “Litter and It Will Hurt” campaign hotline started to hear a recorded message saying the state is no longer accepting reports of littering.
The service accepted litter violation reports from citizens and followed up by sending educational letters to the owners of vehicles suspected of littering.
Officials reduced the agency’s Waste Reduction, Recycling and Litter Control Account — the funding source for the state’s litter prevention and cleanup activities — by $7 million for the 2011-13 budget.
The account’s main revenue source is a tax on industries producing items responsible for contributing to the litter problem.
Due to similar reductions to the account taken in the 2009-11 biennium, funding for the education and outreach campaign to promote the litter reporting line, as well as other litter prevention activities, had already been eliminated. Only the reporting hotline and educational letters, roadway signs and the agency’s litter website remained as part of the state’s anti-littering campaign.
Without the campaign to promote visibility of the hotline service, calls declined. Call volumes tracked alongside promotional efforts and trended up in summer months.
On average, the hotline received 15,000 calls or more per year. In 2009, a targeted advertising push in May and June resulted in the most calls of any year — 21,621. So far in 2011, June reached the peak calling month at 890 calls — far below a summer average.
Even though the hotline is suspended, highway and roadway litter-prevention signs remains in place.
“We are doing this to avoid the cost of signage removal at this time, and to serve as a reminder to drivers not to litter,” Peter Christiansen, Ecology Waste 2 Resources regional manager in King County, said in a news release. “And the fines for littering are still in place if you are seen by the state patrol to have littered.”
Operating the toll-free reporting line cost the Department of Ecology about $50,000 each year. The agency has contracted with a call center to answer calls, and agency staff verified vehicle license information through a state Department of Licensing database. Other costs included supplies and postage.
The agency intends to achieve the rest of the budget cuts directed by state lawmakers through a number of reductions in the Waste 2 Resources Program, including:
- Reducing Ecology Youth Corps funds, hiring 80 fewer employees during the biennium.
- Suspending or reducing litter pickup contracts with other state agencies and local governments.
- Leaving several staff positions unfilled.
- Suspending or reducing other work to promote and measure waste reduction in Washington.
Despite the budget cutbacks in the litter prevention program, the Ecology Youth Corps, state Department of Corrections and county crews continue to clean up highway and roadway litter.
The youth corps program intends to hire 270 youths statewide to pick up litter throughout summer.
With less public resources devoted to litter cleanup and prevention, the Department of Ecology recommends a simple solution for preventing more trash from piling up along roadways and other open spaces: Do not throw trash out of vehicle windows.