Pick It Up! The High Cost Of Litter Control

Garbage in the natureWhy do people feel free to throw their trash in my front yard?! At what cost are they ‘cleaning’ out their cars and throwing their trash out the car window?

I just picked up an open, empty beer can from the easement along our road. Really? Someone was driving down the road drinking that beer? AND they felt free to throw it in my yard. By what right?

I once visited a city on the east coast, driving through one of the urban areas, I noted that the entire grass median on ALL sides of the road was several LAYERS deep in trash – the ENTIRE several block area was covered! Amazing.

Who Litters?

According to the Keep America Beautiful website people choose to litter. Younger people are more apt to litter than older ones especially when they are in groups.

Litter along roadways is generally the fault of motorists, followed by pedestrians, although some has escaped from open back trucks or blown in from elsewhere.

Why Do People Litter?

The Keep America Beautiful website claims that:

“About 85% of littering is the result of individual attitudes. Changing individual behavior is key to preventing litter. “

Missouri has a NoMOTrash website which profiles types of people with respect to littering as follows:

  • “Non-litterers – environmentally conscious, don’t litter and usually pick up litter of others
  • Inconvenients – too hard, too much trouble, someone else’s problem
  • Ignorants – these people are simply unaware of a link between the environment and their litter behavior
  • Willful Arrogants – usually litter in a context, i.e. “It’s okay to litter in urban areas but not in the country”
  • Anti-establishments – make a statement with purposeful littering”


How Much Litter Is There?

In a 2 year period, Washington State picked up around 10,475 TONS of litter. Nationwide, over 51 BILLION pieces of litter are strewn about. Of that most is less than 4 inches.

On the state highway we live along, my husband does litter patrol on both sides of the highway for about ½ mile every week and picks up one to two gallon bucketfuls of trash each time!

What Kind Of Litter Is There?

Most highway litter(59 percent) is paper, 16 percent is cans, 6 percent bottles, 6 percent plastics and 13 percent miscellaneous.

Most found are fast food wrappers and cups. Second most found, believe it or not, are open and empty aluminum beer cans and third is soda cans.

But by far, the winner for most littered are cigarette butts. Along our road, hubby gets the equivalent of 2 packs of butts each time he makes a litter patrol.

How Much Does Litter Control Cost?

The West Virginia Department of Transportation estimates the annual cost of roadside litter control nationwide is $115 million.

Keep America Beautiful has a much higher cost estimate, saying:

“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.”

Costs for various states differ, but most are composed of paying employees or Department of Corrections crews to pick it up, costs of administering ‘adopt-A-Highway‘ programs (including providing litter bags, safety vests, picking up and disposing of the litter bags and etc) as well as picking up and disposing of large debris, such as furniture, tires and dead animals.

Yes, furniture. More people should copy the rednecks down in the Ozarks, where they have an annual couch burning bonfire/beer fest!

Washington State spends more than $3 million taxpayer dollars annual for litter control.

Missouri spends at least $5 million and would spend $1.5 million more if not for their adopt-A-Highway program volunteers. Even after years of anti litter campaign, folks are still tossing, not only in Missouri, but everywhere. However, this state has set up a website called NoMOTrash to help raise awareness of the problem.

Litter Is Bad

Come on folks, dispose of your trash appropriately. Litter is not only costly, it is bad for the environment, poses health risks, harms water quality and wildlife habitat and is associated with increased crime.

Lets face it, in addition, litter is just plain ugly – so stop littering my yard along the state highway! Stop drinking beer in the car, and certainly stop throwing away the empties along the highway!

Be proud of your country, region, state and city. Keep them clean.

Can you tell that people who litter make me steam? Why do you litter (chances are you do!)?


Pick It Up! The High Cost Of Litter Control — 15 Comments

  1. You just hit a hot button for me Marie! We live on a corner lot and are constantly getting crap thrown in or by our yard. I know it happens all around, but I am sure being on a corner lot makes it a bit easier. My parents were vigilant about not littering and has passed down to me. There are just too many reasons not to do it then we don’t.

  2. In my little world of a high school classroom, I am amazed how bad young people are about leaving trash behind. Most of the problem is their age, but the future is not bright. Habits are being formed, parents need to step up.

  3. I’m with John – I used to live on a corner lot – stuff would get blown there, dropped there, you name it. I was taught always to pick up after myself!

  4. I cannot believe how badly the streets, freeways and highways are littered. It looks like Mexico in Southern California. No offence. It’s just aweful, there is litter everywhere. My daughter thinks the prisoners ought to pick it up, I tend to agree. I remember when the state would have workers out there picking it up and putting it in big bags and then pick that up, you could be proud. Not anymore! Very sad, very scary.

  5. *sigh* Litter makes me angry. I’m generally not a big fan of a certain Mr. Suzuki, but I have heard that he tries to pick up one piece of litter each and every day. That’s something I can get behind, for sure.
    My great uncle still goes for walks and collects cans. They have a deposit where he lives, but he doesn’t truly do it for the money, it’s more to keep the world a little cleaner.

  6. When I was a kid, growing up in Portland Oregon, one of the very first STates to be environmentally aware, I threw a Dentine wrapper down. You know, the one inch square piece of paper? Anyway, a woman behind me picked it up, came up to me and shoved it back in my face. This was 40 years ago. I have never forgotten it and I thought she blew it way out of proportion, but she didn’t and she left an impression, so yes, stop it at the source. I agree.

  7. I saw that you mentioned how some states are paying over 5 million dollars of taxpayer dollars for litter control. This totally stunned me, what could the state government spend that money on productively to help the people? Think, if we did’t feel the need to throw trash out for others to pick up, we could fund the public education in our states. Since we have to spend all of our money picking up trash we are not only hurting the environment, but potentially firing teachers or hurting the economy in another way! Littering definitely has more of an effect on the world than people realize.

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