2021 highway cleanup nets 10 tons more than 5-year average | VailDaily.com

2021 highway cleanup nets 10 tons more than 5-year average

And about 5 tons more than the 2019 cleanup

John Packer, owner of Fly Fishing Outfitters, grabs a plastic bag during the annual highway cleanup May 1 near Wolcott. Packer said every year they play a game to find the most common beer bottle or can.
Chris Dillmann / cdillmann@vaildaily.com

The numbers don’t lie; skipping a year of the highway cleanup results in twice as much trash the following year.

The Eagle River Watershed Council shared their 2021 Community Pride Highway Cleanup numbers with the Vail Daily on Monday, along with the numbers from other recent years.

Before this year, the last five highway cleanups had yielded, on average, about 12 tons of trash per year.

This year, volunteers collected 22 tons of trash after the 2020 cleanup was canceled due to COVID-19.

That number sounded all too predictable, said Holly Loff with the Eagle River Watershed Council.

“I’ve said, for years, that the average amount of trash that gets put down on our highways in an average year is about 10 to 12 tons,” Loff said. “So the fact that we didn’t do it last year, and there’s about 22 tons, tells me that’s about right.”

But while it sounds, “right,” Loff said, it doesn’t sound right.

“I think that we could all do a better job of tying down trash,” she said. “A lot of stuff just looks like if flew out of a truck or car, unintentionally.”

The Eagle River Watershed Council organizes the community highway cleanup each year. This year, 1,000 volunteers took to local roads to pick up trash on May 1.
Special to the Daily

About 1,000 volunteers gathered on May 1 to clean up various sections of roadway in Eagle County, much of which had not seen any attention since that time in 2019.

2019, it’s worth pointing out, was also a big trash year relative to the years leading up to it. Volunteers cleaned up 16.5 tons that year, and in the five years leading up to 2019, the average trash collected each year was 11 tons.

Before that, however, 20-ton years were commonplace. From 2004 to 2012, the average highway cleanup yielded roughly 25 tons of trash per year.

Loff said in those years, some of the trash that was being collected was much older, and eventually the highway cleanups leveled out to yield mostly trash that was accumulated over the last year. That’s where Loff says she arrived at her 10-12 tons per-year figure, after observing the trash cleanups of the 2010s.

“It took a while to catch up,” she said.

The 2021 event was the 21st annual, with the exception of the 2020 event.

And while many of the local roadways are much improved after the May 1 event, Loff said that also creates a contrast which makes the uncleaned sections of roadway stand out.

“You can see there’s sections we didn’t get to,” she said.

For those who have also noticed those sections, a Sept. 11 cleanup event has been scheduled by the watershed council, as well.

That event will be focused around cleaning up sections of local streams and rivers, but if the volunteer turnout and interest is high, teams may also be dispatched to sections of local roadway once again, Loff said.

Learn more by visiting erwc.org.

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