More than 800 tons of trash in Maricopa County cleaned up by ADOT in 2021

Litter along freeways has increased 47% since 2017

Debris collected off I-10PHOENIX – Last year, the Arizona Department of Transportation along with its maintenance contractors picked up 118,578 bags of trash along freeways in Maricopa County, which translates to approximately 811 tons. This continues an upward trend in the amount of litter accumulation along Valley freeways since 2017.

During the past five years, litter has steadily increased along state freeways in Maricopa County. In 2017, ADOT picked up 80,442 bags of litter compared to the nearly 119,000 bags last year. That’s a 47% increase.

ADOT maintenance crews are able to clean about 250 miles along the freeway system once a week thanks to funding from the Maricopa Association of Governments. Nevertheless, the amount of litter and trash increases along Valley freeways year after year. 

“Drivers can help out by simply not littering,” said Mary Currie, who manages ADOT’s Adopt a Highway programs. “Don’t toss that burger wrapper, paper cup or cigarette butt out of the window. All of those seemingly small and insignificant items build up over time creating safety issues.”

Some of those safety issues include blockages of stormwater drainage grates, sometimes preventing water from flowing freely to retention basins, drainage channels or pump stations. That can cause standing water to build in low lying locations along freeways. Over time, litter also can negatively impact the operation of pumps that remove storm runoff along some Phoenix-area freeways. 

It’s also important to secure your load before traveling. ADOT’s Incident Response Unit sponsored by State Farm, whose job is to patrol Valley freeways to provide vital services including removing litter and debris blocking the road, responds to an average of 26 calls per week for debris blocking the highway. In fact, one-third of all the calls the IRU receives are for litter blocking the road.

In addition to ADOT maintenance crews cleaning the freeways, ADOT also provides a way to report litter. Litter.AZ.gov allows witnesses to quickly share what they’ve seen through an automated chat feature. The site asks for just a few details, including license plate number, location, time and type of litter. The mission of ADOT’s Litter Hotline, which also is available by calling the toll-free phone number 877.3LITTER (877.354.8837), is public awareness rather than law enforcement. More than 1,000 letters are issued through this program each year.

The Maricopa Association of Governments focuses on keeping roadways clean through its Don't Trash Arizona campaign. Those who litter along Arizona highways can face fines up to $500.

“By not littering and securing your loads, we can all help Keep Arizona Grand,” Currie said.