PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A study by the Washington Department of Ecology found the Evergreen State had more litter on roadways and public areas in 2022 than the national average.

The study, published in June 2023, measured litter from 182 randomly selected sites across the state, including roadways, parks, high-use rest areas and other public lands, the department said. Additionally, researchers focused on litter from travelers and did not study trash “associated with homeless encampments, which is separate from the state’s litter prevention campaign.”

“What did the study find? So. Much. Trash.” the Washington Department of Ecology announced in a press release.

Researchers found an average of 8,112 pieces of litter per mile on roadways in the spring, which is higher than the national average of 5,714 pieces of litter per mile, according to the Keep America Beautiful National Litter Study.

The study found the most common types of litter include cigarette butts, food wrappers and glass bottles along with construction and demolition debris.

Officials reported that an estimated 38 pounds of litter is found on roads and public areas in Washington every year. “Tally it up and that’s almost 5 pounds of litter for every single resident of our state,” the Department of Ecology said.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the most beautiful state in the country marred by litter,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. “Too often, we see people point the finger at others when it comes to litter. The truth is, we all need to do our part to prevent litter – whether that’s keeping a trash bag in our car or strapping down cargo to prevent accidents. A few simple steps can make a big difference for everyone in Washington.”

According to the Department of Ecology, 75% of Washingtonians do not litter however, among the other 25%, researchers say men between 18-44 years old are the biggest offenders.

“The most common excuse is simply not having a litter bag in their vehicle, or the equipment needed to properly cover and secure their load,” the department said.

The study noted every year in Washington, debris from unsecured loads causes more than 300 traffic crashes and 30 injuries. In 2022, five deaths were attributed to large debris.

“We acknowledge that roadside litter is not just unsightly but also poses serious safety concerns to travelers – including roadside workers and people who walk, bike and roll,” said Washington State Department of Transportation Secretary Roger Millar. “That is why we stand arm-in-arm with our partners at Ecology and the Washington State Patrol in litter prevention and ongoing cleanup efforts, but the simple truth is there is more litter than we can collect. We ask everyone to help keep litter off our roadways and rights of way and secure their loads on every trip – even just across town.”

The Department of Ecology noted, “it’s not clear why Washington appears to have significantly more litter on its roads – this is the state’s first study of its kind since 2004. There is no single category of litter or location that stands out as a driver of the disparity.”

The department says it is hopeful for less litter in the future after receiving new funding from the legislature to add to their litter pickup and prevention program. The Washington State Department of Transportation and the Department of Ecology together spend upwards of $9 million every year on litter clean up.

“It’s no surprise to us that litter is a serious challenge for our state. Ecology and our partners have already picked up over 6 million pounds of litter in the first half of this year – nearly an all-time high,” said Laura Watson, Ecology’s director, “But we can’t clean our way out of this. This new data really underscores the work we still have ahead of us and the importance of preventing litter at the source.”