What can we do about Rochester’s roadside garbage?

What to do about the trash on Rochester’s streets

The News10NBC Team details breaking News, Traffic and Weather.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — As the snow outside continues to melt, we start to see the sidewalks and roads completely again. And as one viewer noticed, a lot of them are covered in trash.

News10NBC’s Hailie Higgins spoke with the City and State crews responsible for clearing it all up. No one wants to live in a dirty city. So, what can be done?

As Hailie was writing this earlier Wednesday, she looked outside the window right next to her desk. She saw a dirty Dunkin’ Donuts bag, and a crumpled bag of Funyuns, littered on station property. And our maintenance man, Rick, cleans up the trash nearly every single day outside.

When Hailie spoke with folks in the city, they told her they run into the same problem. They have crews out nearly every day, weather permitting, and yet, there’s always more garbage to pick up. 

Hailie followed a crew around Wednesday morning on Portland Avenue. Rain or shine, between five and 25 of them are out in the city on any given day. And they have their hotspots. One of them is corner stores.

Hailie walked and drove several roads for this story, just cataloguing the trash she saw. And she wasn’t surprised — much of it is from places like corner stores. You can find anything, but the overwhelming majority is single-use plastic.

Cannabis wrappers, alcoholic beverages and bottles, and takeout containers —to name a few of the usual suspects. Staff also told Hailie one of the bigger demographics responsible for litter is school-age kids and teens.

When school’s out, many of the trash hotspots change. So, what do they do? 

Outside of street sweepers and cleanup crews, environmental services helps coordinate hundreds of volunteer-initiated cleanup events every year.

“Education is key. We try to enlist the youth, enlist the community group. We have a lot of partners, a lot of messages we send out right in the beginning of the season. On May 4 this year will be our clean sweep — that’s our kickoff to litter cleanup and beautification. That’s one day.” says Karin St. Aubin, operations director of environmental services.

One classic volunteer program isn’t really around anymore. When you picture litter cleanup, many people think of the jail community service programs. And in Monroe County, that’s been suspended since 2022.

Hailie reached out to the sheriff’s office last week to ask why. They told her they don’t have enough eligible prisoners anymore. 

To be eligible, you must be a nonviolent offender serving a year or less in jail. And you had to want to do it, as the sheriff’s office told Hailie the programs are 100% voluntary.

At its peak the program had about a dozen deputies and three dozen inmates. When it closed down, it had about six eligible inmates.

They’d also do things like cut grass, and sandbag Lake Ontario to prevent flood damage.

“We would love to implement that again, and we’re constantly reevaluating our inmate population levels and things like that to see what we can do and when we can do it,” says says James McGowan, major of operations at the Monroe County Jail. “Right now, there’s just not enough in our custody to allow that to happen.”

Hailie also wanted to look at highways. So she reached out to the department of transportation, and their Adopt-a-Highway initiative.

They declined to interview, and gave Hailie this statement:

“The New York State Dept. of Transportation dedicates significant resources to litter pick-up efforts — including in the Rochester area.

Additionally in April, NYSDOT removed 12,459 bags of litter from state highways. Including over 450 bags along the inner loop”

Folks Hailie talked to with the City said the best way to clean up litter is to prevent it in the first place. But as long as we have single-use plastic in New York, it’s likely we’ll continue to see it on the side of the road.