SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Utah’s beautiful views are known all over the world but if you look closer, the views give way to something not nearly as nice. Litter is everywhere.

Piece by piece the entire state is being trashed.

John Gleason, the spokesperson for UDOT, says, “Littering is not a problem that is exclusive to Utah. We have this issue that happens all across the U.S.”

Even though the problem is nationwide, the trash problem here has created dangerous issues resulting in two deaths so far this year.

Sgt. Cameron Roden with Utah Highway Patrol told ABC4, “Last year in 2021, we had over 29,300 debris calls. There are some exceptions to that where we have multiple officers on one call logging that. These are very dangerous situations, with injuries, and these are causing the fatalities, we’ve seen within the last few months.”

According to UDOT, over the last few years, there have been 1800 to 2000 accidents caused each year by road debris. They’re still counting for 2021.

Where did it come from? How did it get here? The problem is complex, but it starts with all of us.

Gleason says “I think there are a lot of good intentions. I don’t think anyone sets out with the idea that they’re going to litter or drop something on the road.”

The state has grown, and now 3.2 million people live in Utah, and each of us throws stuff away every day. Or at least we think we do. A lot of garbage does not make it to the landfill, the leaks can start in our own homes.

Dustin Bradshaw, Salt Lake County’s Waste Collection Manager says, “if you have an overfilled can, windy days or not windy days, the lids aren’t completely closed. Sometimes, as soon as the driver is trying to service the can, trash will spill out.”

That wind makes it worse. Bradshaw says, “A lot of cans are not either bagged, or a lot of the trash blows out of our trucks instantly. Just blowing down the street.”

UDOT’s Gleason adds “It’s a big problem over the last five years. We’ve devoted about 20% more time of our maintenance crews to be out there, picking it up.

That added time costs UDOT $2.5 million a year. 

“The frustrating thing for our crews is if we’re out there on a certain section of road, we clean it all up, and just a couple of weeks later, you’re driving along, and it looks like we haven’t been there. That’s not something anyone wants to feel,” says Gleason.

How do you control millions of pieces of trash around the state? We start by becoming aware of our leaks. Sgt. Roden says, “It’s something we need to work on as a group, not just the law enforcement side or UDOT, the public as well.”

Next, we start doing a few simple things in a different way.

Dustin Bradshaw says the start can be fairly easy. “One thing that could help with that is getting people to tie up the drawstrings. Tie up their bags in a knot.” Tying the bags keeps the contents from spilling, but it also helps create density, which makes it harder for the wind to blow the bags around.

Another part of the problem is when we all haul trash to the landfill. We need to make sure we are transporting the garbage correctly. UHP’s Roden says, “If it’s something like a load that we’re carrying down the highway, we just purchased some furniture or something like that, we see those quite often, go the extra mile to secure it extra good to the vehicle.”

Gleason says the bottom line is, “It really comes down to you and me as individuals and what we will do to help address the problem. Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution, tie down your cargo, and make sure you’re not littering.”

Being mindful of our trash, and where the trash is going is important. The other things like don’t overfill your garbage cans, make sure your trash is down in a bag and by your door in your car, and keep everything covered when you go to the landfill can help.

Both UDOT and Salt Lake County Waste say the biggest thing is to remember millions of people live in Utah now. We have to realize every little bit, if we all do it once, is millions of pieces of trash. It can hurt everything we love about our state, the wildlife and us.