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Pennsylvania has a litter problem. That’s the conclusion of a report released late last year. Outreach and education, like Pennsylvania Resources Council’s annual photo contest, are a big part of the solution.

LISTEN to Zoe Broyles describe her winning photo

From 2018 to 2019, the Department of Environmental Protection partnered with PennDot and Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful to conduct the first state-wide litter survey. The findings are outlined in the new Litter Action Plan. More than 500 million pieces of trash are estimated to be on Pennsylvania’s roadways, costing the state millions of dollars annually to clean it up.

The plan is meant to serve as Pennsylvania’s road map out of its litter problem. One area of focus is educating people about litter, which is what the Pennsylvania Resources Council is trying to do with its Lens on Litter Contest. Since 1984, the photography contest has operated under the idea that “exposure leads to prevention.”

This year, the winning photo was submitted by 16-year-old Zoe Broyles, an 11th-grader at Fox Chapel Area High School, just outside of Pittsburgh. It shows an iconic Pittsburgh scene – a city skyline, the Allegheny River, a signature yellow bridge – but sharply in focus is litter strewn along the riverbank.

“The title of the photo is “Rachel Carson’s Dream” because Rachel Carson was an environmentalist and it’s a photo of litter underneath the bridge named after her,” Broyles said.

To search for the best photo, Broyles and her dad drove to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail that goes along the Allegheny River. “And we saw this little clearing right very close down by the river,” she explained. “I just started to scour for little pieces of litter right next to the river and just started taking photos from a bunch of different angles. And luckily, one of the first few pictures that we took was the winning shot.”

Broyles hopes her photo can inspire people pick up litter in their own area or start to change their own behavior.

“I think that really displays how the whole point of the contest was to display litter in your own area,” she said. “You can really see how how seeing the litter in your own little world or seeing the litter in your own town, it’s like, ‘Wow, I didn’t really know that it was this bad,’ or ‘I didn’t know that these areas where this polluted.'”

Though she thinks of herself as both an environmentalist and a photographer, “winning the contest has really put the photographer label up higher for me,” she said.

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