You don’t have to search far to find litter. Unfortunately, litter can still be found quite readily in our neighborhoods, communities and natural spaces. While research indicates that visible roadside litter has decreased by about 61 percent since 1969, it is still a significant problem. A portion of this problem is the more than 51 billion pieces of litter that land on U.S. roadways each year. That’s 6,729 items per mile. There are significant, tangible costs to this litter:
- Litter cleanup costs the U.S. almost $11.5 billion each year.
- Community, economy and quality of life suffer. Everyone agrees on this: litter is ugly. The presence of litter in a community takes a toll on the quality of life, property values, and housing prices. A Tennessee survey found that 62% of people say that litter affects the way other people view their communities. According to PennDOT, numerous accidents occur every year by vehicles swerving around litter.
- Litter has real environmental consequences. Weather, traffic, and animals transport litter into gutters, lawns, alleyways, and parking structures. Debris can be carried through storm drains into local waterways, and most likely will find its way into our coastal habitats and oceans. The most dramatic account of damage caused by litter is the 1998 floods in Bangladesh where 57% of the land area was flooded. Although flooding is common in this low-lying country, 1998 was particularly bad and, anecdotally, exacerbated by litter that clogged some of the drainage structures.
Why people do it
Research and experience show that litter is the result of individual choice to be careless in the handling of personal waste. More than 80 percent of individuals believe that littering is wrong. However, research shows that nearly one in five, or 17 percent of all public disposals were littered with 81 percent of this littering being intentional, involving flicking, flinging, or dropping trash. When surveyed, the litterers did not feel a sense of personal responsibility for the cleanliness of the parks, walkways, beaches, and other public spaces. Instead, there was a belief that someone else will pick up after them. Cigarette butts represent the vast majority of littering – for both the amount of material littered as well as the percentage that are improperly discarded. Following cigarettes, food remnants and their accompanying wrappers – as well as beverage containers – represent the next most frequently littered items.
Litterers are reluctant to litter a clean environment, but do not suffer those same qualms with an already littered area. Meaning, once litter is on the ground it attracts more litter, whereas a clean community discourages littering.
We all have a responsibility to prevent litter. Our individual disposal choices are often the example which others, particularly young people, chose to follow. Setting positive examples on how to properly dispose of waste will ensure that litter decreases in the future. If having a litter-free community is important, than individuals need to take a stand against litter.
Each person must accept responsibility for their actions and influence the actions of others around them at home and in the community at large. Start with these actions:
- Commit not to litter. Ever.
- Remind others not to litter and explain why littering is a bad thing.
- Get a litter bag and pick litter up if you see it. Dispose of full litter bags appropriately.
- Volunteer in your community for organized litter cleanup events.
- Commit to less formal litter reduction strategies. Reverselitter.com recommends “ten on Tuesday” which encourages everyone to take responsibility by picking up ten pieces of trash or recyclables every Tuesday.