ABILENE, Texas - More than $40 million taxpayer dollars are spent on average each year to clean up litter on state-maintained roads, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
TxDOT's Don't Mess with Texas anti-littering campaign is celebrating its 28th year and Sunny Sauceda, a Grammy-winning Tejano performer, and Kevin Fowler, a country music singer, are now backing the campaign.
Though, according to a study, there was a 34 percent decrease in visible trash along more than 80,000 miles of state maintained roadways from 2009 to 2013, there is still much room for improvement.
"We're picking up around 435-million pieces of trash every year, so that's a lot of litter," said TxDOT spokeswoman Darah Waldrip. "It has gone down over the years, so not as much going on the roadway, but still, that's a lot of litter and a lot of money."
According to TxDOT, tobacco products make up 31 percent of litter.
"We also see a lot of fast food trash, cardboard boxes, miscellaneous pieces of paper, candy wrappers, things like that," Waldrip said. "But small items do add up and they can be dangerous. They can collect in storm drains, cause flooding issues and the real danger with cigarette butts is not just that they're ugly, they're also a fire hazard."
A study found that young Texans – between the ages of 16 and 34 – are more likely to litter.
"We have educational programs in school just to try to prevent this problem from happening with future generations and we have about 1000 people moving to Texas every day," Waldrip said. "So this is a message that's ongoing just to help people understand that it's every body's responsibility to keep our state clean and beautiful."
Fines can total up to $500 for the first littering offense alone. Repeat offenders can see fines up to $2,000 and 180 days in jail. According to TxDOT, litter weighing more than five pounds is classified as illegal dumping. Penalties for illegal dumping can be more severe than penalties for littering.