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What can you do to stop litter?
Consequences of litter
While research indicates that visible roadside litter has decreased by about 61 percent since 1969, litter is still a big, persistent problem. More than 51 billion pieces of litter 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, with businesses paying $9.1 billion. Governments, schools, and other organizations pick up the remainder.
Community economy and quality of life suffer. The presence of litter in a community takes a toll on quality of life, property values, and housing prices.
Litter has environmental consequences. Wind and weather, traffic, and animals move litter into gutters, lawns and landscaped areas, alleyways, and parking structures. Debris may be carried by storm drains into local waterways. Litter that reaches any waterways generally finds its way into our oceans. In fact,
more than 80% of the ocean debris is from land-based sources.
Where do people litter?
Individuals litter most on roads and highways and in retail, recreational, and residential locations:
Roadway Litter — Tobacco products, mostly cigarette butts, are the most littered item on U.S. roadways (38 percent). This is followed by paper (22 percent) and plastic (19 percent). Most of the litter on roads and highways is caused by people. Research shows that littering along roadways is generated by the following: motorists (52 percent), pedestrians (23 percent) and improperly covered truck or cargo loads, including collection vehicles (16 percent).
Transition points — These are entrances to businesses, transportation, and other places where items must be discarded before entering. Confection (candy, chocolate, gum, etc.) ranks at the top (54 percent) of what is littered at transition points; this is followed by cigarette butts at 30 percent.
Recreational Areas — Parks, beaches, courts, and open areas where people congregate for leisure activities create lots of opportunities for littering.
Retail — High-traffic locations such as shopping centers, strip malls, and convenience stores can generate packaging litter, and cigarette butts and confection on the ground.
Why people do it
Research and experience have shown that litter is the result of individual behavior — choosing to litter or being careless in the handling of waste. Research indicates that more than 80 percent of individuals believe that littering is wrong, and consequently feel a personal obligation not to litter. But research has found that
nearly one in five, or 17 percent of all disposals observed in public spaces were littering. And 81 percent of this littering was intentional, that is involved flicking, flinging, or dropping trash.
When asked, some litterers explain that they feel no sense of ownership for parks, walkways, beaches, and other public spaces. They believe someone else will pick up after them; that it’s not their responsibility.
Once litter is on the ground, it attracts more litter. A clean community, by contrast, can discourage littering and improve community appearance and quality of life.
Everyone has a role to play in preventing litter. Changing a common behavior, like littering, starts with you. Each person must accept responsibility for their actions and influence the actions of others around them at home, at school, in your place of business, and in the community at large. Start with these actions:
Choose not to litter. Ever.
Remind others not to litter and explain why litter is a bad thing.
Get a litter bag or portable ash receptacles.
If you see litter, pick it up. Dispose of full litter bags appropriately.
Volunteer in your community for organized litter cleanup events.
EIA is the trade association that represents the private sector solid waste and recycling industry through its two sub-associations, the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) and the Waste Equipment Technology Association (WASTEC).