In this day and age, it seems as though littering should be a problem of the past. Unfortunately, it is still a huge problem for the world. People litter for many reasons; for example, because they don’t feel responsible for taking care of the environment, because they believe someone else will take care of the litter, or because there is already so much litter in an area that they don’t think one more piece will make much difference. If you are concerned about a littering problem in your area, you can take steps to encourage others to stop littering and you can take action by arranging litter pick ups in the community.
Set an example.
The best way you can discourage people from littering is by setting a good example. Don’t throw your litter on the ground, pick up litter you see and dispose of it in the trash when you see it, and don’t throw any litter (including cigarette butts) out of your car.
You can also check to make sure that any trash cans you own have a securely fitting lid. A huge source of litter comes from the trash cans that we set out to be collected. If the lid doesn’t fit securely and the trash can gets knocked over, the litter will be blown all around the neighborhood.
Remind people of the environmental consequences of littering.
If you see a friend or family member littering, explain to them how that one piece of garbage can have a huge environmental impact. Explain how litter that you throw on the ground may not seem like much, but that litter is usually blown around until it ends up in a stream, river, or the ocean. In addition, litter can harm or even kill many animals who might ingest or get caught in litter.
Try to remind people that even if they don’t see what goes on, litter that is thrown on the ground will, at some point, become the problem of another human or animal.
Don’t confront strangers about littering.
It may be tempting to go point out that littering is bad, but you may provoke someone into a physical confrontation if you catch them on a bad day. If you want to do something about the littering, go pick up the trash they left and dispose of it yourself.
Explain the laws your state may have about littering.
Unfortunately, some people don’t really care about the environmental consequences, but they probably care about spending money. Talking about the potential fines and even jail time that a person can face if caught littering might give people a reason to dispose of their garbage properly.
Every state in the US has created strict laws about littering. If you are caught littering, you will probably have to pay a fine that can range from $20 up to $3,000, and you could even face jail time depending on the situation. Be sure to warn people that when they litter, they are breaking the law.
On this webpage you can find out what the penalties are for littering in your state.
Remind people that taxpayer money goes toward cleaning up litter.
Many people don’t realize that the state often spends millions of tax dollars in order to clean up litter. If there was less litter to clean up, the state would be able to spend people’s tax dollars on improving other things, like public transport and education. Explaining this to people could help discourage them from continuing to litter.
You can find out about how much your state spends on litter prevention programs by doing an internet search. For example, using the search terms, “litter prevention program” plus the name of your state.
Educate children about the importance of disposing of trash properly.
It is particularly important to set a good example for children, who rely heavily on the actions of others to decide what is OK and not OK for them to do. If you have children, or are with children, never throw litter on the ground. If you do, you are showing them that this is acceptable behavior.
If you are with a child, and they see someone littering, set an example. Go pick up the litter that the person dropped, and throw it in a trash can. Explain to the child that although that person littered, it is a very bad thing to do, and they shouldn’t use that as an example of what is right.
Spend time talking with children you know about why it is important not to litter. Explain how litter harms the planet and the people and animals who live on it.
If you are a kid, and you see your parents or another adult family member littering, don’t be afraid to remind them not to litter.
Report people for littering.
In many states, you can report people you see littering to the authorities. For example, in the state of Texas, if you see a motorist littering (e.g. throwing trash or cigarette butts out the window of their car), you can report them using the license plate number, make and model of the car. The state then sends a car trash bag to the litterer along with educational information about litter prevention.
You can find out if your state has such a program by doing an internet search using the terms, “litter prevention program” plus the name of your state.
Encourage local business owners to maintain their dumpsters.
If you notice a dumpster outside a business that is overflowing or that has lots of litter strewn around the ground, go into the business and ask to speak with the manager. Politely let them know that you’ve noticed that they are creating a lot of litter in the community, and that you hope they will take steps to fix the problem as soon as possible. Most business owners want to maintain a reputation as a community team player, so most will want to address the issue right away, especially if a member of the community has mentioned that they have noticed it.
You might consider going back in a few days to see if the problem has been fixed. If it hasn’t, consider going in and letting them know that you see they haven’t fixed the issue, and that you’ll be reporting them to your local authorities if they don’t do something about it soon.
Lobby for more trash receptacles around your town.
People will be less likely to litter if they have convenient places to put their garbage. You can contact the mayor of your city or you can approach businesses and ask them to provide a trash can outside their business with a sign that asks people to not litter.
Some businesses might be more willing to participate in this kind of thing than others. For example, a cafe, deli, or restaurant that serves food to go might be happy to do something like this because they produce a lot of waste that customers might leave lying around.
Choose a day.
The first step in arranging a community litter pick up is to decide when you will do it. Try to choose a day and time that will allow the most people to come. Though it’s not possible to predict what the weather will do for certain, try to look at the weather forecast, and pick a day when it is expected to be warm and sunny.
For example, if you choose to do your litter pick up on a weekday at 2pm, you won’t be able to expect that any working person will be able to come. Therefore, if possible, a Saturday or Sunday may be a good choice. If you want to do it during the week, try to choose a time in the evening before it gets dark.
Choose an area.
You will also need to let people know where you will be picking up litter. Choose an area where you’ve noticed a problem with litter, then limit the cleanup to that area. You can also have the cleanup in your neighborhood, if you want.
If possible, choose an area that has boundaries so that people won’t think they’re expected to clean up an entire forest in one day, for example.
Limit the amount of time.
People will be more likely to come if you plan your pick up for a shorter amount of time. If people think they are going to have to give up an entire day to help you they probably won’t feel like coming.
Try to choose a one or two hour window during the day, and advertise this as your scheduled pick up time. You can always stay longer if people want to, but this way, people won’t feel like they have to do a full day’s work on their day off.
Fortunately, a litter pick up doesn’t require much, but it’s good to have enough supplies. Make sure to bring large garbage bags to collect the trash in, gloves to protect people’s hands, and a place to dispose of the garbage bags when the cleanup is over.
You can ask people to bring along their own gloves, too. However, try to have at least a few pairs with you for anyone who didn’t bring them.
Advertise your event.
Make flyers and post them around the community. Be sure to include the day, time, and address where you will meet for the cleanup. If you need people to bring supplies, be sure to make that explicit in your flyer.
You should also not forget to invite people directly. For example, go to all of the homes in your neighborhood to speak to your neighbors directly. Let them know what you’re doing and that you hope they’ll be able to come along and help.
You should also contact your local news station. In some cases, they may be willing to help you advertise your event to the people of your community by making a short announcement about what you will be doing.
Also let schools in your community know about your cleanup. Many schools require their students to participate in volunteer community events at one point or another, so you may be able to get some students to help you.
After the event, remember to go around and collect all of the flyers you put up so they don’t become litter.
Consider providing an incentive.
This isn’t completely necessary, but if it is within your means, having refreshments at your cleanup event may encourage some people to come. You could, for example, bring lemonade or ice water for people to drink. You could also bring some snacks. For example, you could make a big batch of homemade cookies for all participants to share.
Be prepared to do it alone.
Unfortunately, you may end up with no help on the day of the event. If this is the case, don’t just give up and go home. Go out and pick up the trash yourself. Hopefully you will at least have a few friends or family members there to help you, but even doing it completely alone sets a good example for others.
If you do end up completely alone be sure to call and let someone know that you are out picking up trash, where you are, and when you plan to be done.