The City of Pittsburgh’s GOLD Plan and the Pennsylvania Resources Council’s ‘Lens on Litter’ Photo Contest tackle the state’s litter program from different angles.
Photo: Samantha Weaver, Allegheny Cleanways
By Mary Elizabeth Lynch
In 2021, PennEnvironment conducted a widespread study that included 50 lakes, rivers, and streams across Pennsylvania. This research included the three rivers of Pittsburgh, as well as Chartiers Creek (near the Ohio River,) and the Youghiogheny River. According to the results, there were microplastics in every one of them.
“Microplastics are exactly what they sound like, they’re tiny pieces of plastics,” said Ashleigh Deemer, deputy director of PennEnvironment, in an article for The Allegheny Front. “Plastic bags get away from us. You see them in tatters, kind of laying in the street. They break down into tiny pieces that are washed into our waterways. And once they’re in our waterways, there’s really no good way to get them out.”
Litter is not only detrimental from a financial and aesthetic lens; in a long-term sense, it is environmentally destructive. Microplastics, so tiny that they cannot be detected, are especially insidious.
A litter cost study of nine cities across Pennsylvania— Pittsburgh included— stated that, in 2020, taxpayers in Pennsylvania “spent almost $68 million on litter and illegal dumping mitigation.”
Former Mayor Peduto, in a press release regarding the announcement of the GOLD (City’s Goals on Littering and Dumping) plan released in August 2021 stated that the issue of littering “creates blight in our neighborhoods and our hillsides.”
It’s one of several efforts the City has made throughout the past several years in order to diminish the effects of littering.
As of next year, Pittsburgh will ban retailers and restaurants from using single-use plastics. Stores “can reportedly “offer paper bags instead, made of at least 40% recycled post-consumer content, at a charge to customers of at least 10 cents.”
Although details of distribution have yet to be released, the City of Pittsburgh has established a 3-year plan to distribute blue recycling bins to all residents of Pittsburgh. For Northside residents, a bin can be requested now through PRC (Pennsylvania Resources Council): https://prc.org/pittsburghbins/.
But there’s another outlet for litter awareness and prevention in Pittsburgh: art.
In 2016, Northside artist Oreen Cohen, as part of the “Northside Keeps it Clean” campaign (started by One Northside), created a 6-foot tall structure in the shape of a recycling symbol. This collaborative piece, “Recycle Right,” a traveling art installation, was made from “iron rebar, chicken wire, and recyclables.” According to The Litter Letter Project, “the piece is a way to turn litter into art.” The article explains: “Giving these littered recyclables a new life will serve to provoke thought and engage residents and visitors in conversation and action about the amount of recyclables that become litter, as well as the issue of litter in the Northside and throughout Pittsburgh.”
This year, PRC is holding its annual Gene Capaldi Lens on Litter Photo Contest, which invites participants to “identify the worst or most unusual examples of litter in your Pennsylvania community” through photography. “Exposure leads to prevention!” is the contest’s mission statement.
Entries, which will be limited to five per person, should be sent to PRC Gene Capaldi Lens on Litter Contest, 1671 North Providence Rd., Media, Pa., 19063, and will be judged on six criteria: “anti-litter message, originality, photographic technique, quality of photo, originality of title, and severity of the litter.” Entries “should help bring awareness to how litter threatens public health and safety, scenic beauty, property values, the environment or wildlife.”
All entrants must be amateur photographers and entries must include the following information: entrant’s name, address, email address, phone number, title given to photo, location of litter site, and how you learned of the contest (for students, include age, grade, and name of school). The deadline for the contest is October 31, 2022.
You can find the full contest rules and more information at https://prc.org/programs/projects/lens-litter/.