SACRAMENTO — Tossing beer cans, food wrappers or other trash out the window of a car is like throwing money away in California.
So says the state Department of Transportation, which points out that its job of cleaning up litter alongside California's roadways has gotten so big it costs state taxpayers $10 million a year.
Department maintenance crews picked up more than 155,000 cubic yards of litter from roadsides last year.
"That's a record," said Jack Cropper, chief of the department's Division of Maintenance, "but there's still plenty more out there. Look for another record this year."
To haul away such an amount of trash would require a continuous line of dump trucks stretching from Los Angeles to San Diego, Cropper said.
Work Involves 600
More than 600 persons work full time for an entire year to handle the task. Two-thirds of them are probationers, petty offenders and jail trusties working off their sentences under a program which has resulted in major cost savings for the state, Cropper said.
He said the $10 million a year spent on the cleanup is about what it would cost to fill 6 million potholes.
"So the next time your car bounces across a pothole in a state highway," Cropper said, "you should probably blame the guy in the act of throwing a beer can out the window of the car next to you."
He added, "I can't understand Californians. I've been all over the world, and I haven't seen very many places where outdoor housekeeping is worse than right here in California. Why are Californians making such a mess of a state that started out being so beautiful?"
Odd Items Collected
In addition to common forms of trash such as cans and paper, litter pickups along roadways in recent years have included a wild boar's head, a 5-foot-tall papier-mache rhinoceros, packages of illegal narcotics, upper dentures, millions of computer punch cards, stolen billfolds, packages of $100 bills and a human finger.
Cropper said there also are countless oil cans plus other items associated with automobiles such as old tires, doors, mirrors, mufflers and fenders--"just about anything that'll fall off a car."
The most serious litter problems occur at interchanges where one or more fast-food restaurants are located and on routes leading to dumps, Cropper said.