Littering Is Everyone's Problem

Litter comes at a cost

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Littering a nasty side effect of our convenience-oriented disposable culture. To highlight the scope of the problem, consider that California alone spends $28 million each year cleaning up and removing litter along its roadways. And it doesn't stop there—once trash gets free, wind and weather move it from streets and highways to parks and waterways. One study found that 18% of litter ends up in rivers, streams, and oceans, resulting in trash islands like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Cigarettes Are a Major Cause of Litter

Cigarettes are some of the most commonly littered items, and they are also one of the most insidious forms of litter. Each discarded butt takes 12 years to break down, all the while leaching toxic elements such as cadmium, lead, and arsenic into soil and waterways.

Litter Is Typically Viewed as a Local Problem

The burden of litter cleanup usually falls to local governments or community groups. Some U.S. states (Alabama, California, Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia) are taking strong measures to prevent litter through public education campaigns, and dedicate millions of dollars yearly to cleanup efforts. In Canada, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland also have strong anti-litter campaigns.

Keep America Beautiful and Litter Prevention

Keep America Beautiful (KAB) has been organizing litter cleanups across the United States since 1953. Generally speaking, KAB has a strong track record of success in litter prevention. In the past, it has been criticized for helping its founders and supporters (which include tobacco and beverage companies) by downplaying the issue of litter from cigarettes and opposing mandatory bottle- and can-recycling initiatives over the years. Nonetheless, they do make an impact. Over one million KAB volunteers picked up 24.7 million pounds of litter in KAB’s annual Great American Cleanup in 2018.

Litter Prevention Around the World

A more grassroots-oriented litter prevention group is Auntie Litter, which started in 1990 in Alabama to educate students about the importance of a healthy and clean environment. Today the group works internationally to help students, teachers, and parents eliminate litter in their communities.

In Canada, the nonprofit Pitch-In Canada (PIC), founded in the late-1960s in British Columbia, has since evolved into a professionally run national organization with a tough anti-litter agenda and annual "Pitch-In Week" cleanup events.

Only You Can Prevent Litter

Doing your part to keep litter to a minimum is easy, but it takes vigilance. For starters, never let trash escape from your car, and make sure household garbage bins are sealed tightly so animals can’t get at the contents. Always remember to take your garbage with you upon leaving a park or other public space. And if you’re still smoking, isn’t saving the environment a compelling enough reason to finally quit? Also, if that stretch of roadway you drive on every day is a haven for litter, offer to clean it up and keep it clean. Many cities and towns welcome “Adopt-A-Mile” sponsors for particularly litter-prone streets and highways. As an added bonus, your employer might even want to get in on the act by paying you for your volunteer time.

Edited by Frederic Beaudry