Litter and Waste Reduction: By: Sara Geers


Sources of litter

Some explanations of why people litter is that it is an anti-social behavior, the result of negligence, habit, or lack of education about the impact of littering (Armitage and Rooseboom, 1999; Litter Management, 2002). While this deals with one aspect of the litter problem, the act of people improperly disposing of waste, there are other factors that contribute to this issue. The creation of excess waste is one factor that contributes greatly to the accumulation of litter. This includes excess packaging of products, and unwanted advertising material placed on windshields or handed out (Armitage and Rooseboom, 1999; Litter Management, 2002). Another issue that affects the amount of litter is the lack of enforcement of anti-litter laws. This is most likely due to the amount of more serious offences that the authorities have to deal with, especially in urban areas. The measures set up for disposal and control of waste may also be part of the problem. Trash receptacles along sidewalks and other heavily trafficked areas can create more of a litter problem if they are not designed or maintained properly. In many cases there are not enough trash bins or they are too far apart and this can lead to overfilling or people littering because there is not a bin close by. Also, trash may blow out of bins that are left uncovered or susceptible to vandalism (Armitage and Rooseboom, 1999).

Waste and litter reduction strategies

The problem of litter is very complex and needs to be confronted in a variety of ways depending on the type of area that is being addressed and what measures are already in place. The following figure provides a concise outline of the type of multifaceted approach that is necessary for a successful litter reduction program.

Planning controls are the type of litter management strategy that are the broadest in scope. They include land-use policies that preserve the natural riparian vegetation and shape of river channels to reduce that amount of litter that flows into the river (Marais and Armitage, 2004). The basic idea of planning controls is that any development project that goes on takes into the account the impact that it will have on the surrounding environment, and puts measures in place to reduce its impact. Planning controls are an effective way for developing communities to make sure that the amount of litter and waste will be controlled, but in an urban community that is already fully developed; other measures are more effective and would likely be put into use first.

Structural controls deal with litter after it enters the waterway or drainage system by installing litter traps, diversion systems, silt traps, etc., to remove it. This is one way to keep litter from entering a larger body of water and affecting wildlife, or clogging storm drains and causing localized flooding. The problem with this is that these filtering structures range from 250,000 to 900,000 dollars and are much more expensive than other source controls (Environmental Protection Agency, 2002).

Source controls are the most cost effective way to reduce litter, but need to be implemented in conjunction with one another to be most effective. A specific plan should be laid out, probably favoring one type of source control, depending on the litter reduction strategies already in place, the type of community, and the resources available to address the problem.

Educational campaigns: This is by far the most crucial element of any litter reduction plan. It is “a better investment to educate litterers out of their habit than to go around just picking up after them” (Florida Litter Study, 1998). The idea is, to teach people that casual littering can have a serious impact on the many issues that were discussed earlier such as human health, wildlife, and the economy. Educating the public on these issues can be done in a variety of ways (Marais and Armitage, 2004):

• Integration into school curriculum or after school activities
• Anti-littering messages on buses, billboards, etc.
• Mass media campaigns on the radio, and/or television
• Cleanup campaigns that also provide information about how litter, or chemicals from litter, can be harmful to human and wildlife health

An example of a very successful waste management educational tool for children is a series of children’s books from the UK by Elisabeth Beresford, with characters that clean up litter and turn it into useful things. These books became very popular during the 1960’s and 1970’s and helped shape a generation that was more aware of recycling and litter reduction issues (Read, 1999). The key to any successful education program is to understand the group that should be targeted, and the best way to get the message across to them. As mentioned earlier, studies have shown that the group that litters the most is young males under 35 (Florida Litter Study, 1998). It would be wise for an educational campaign targeting a large area, like a nationwide media campaign for example, to address this group. For a smaller campaign designed for a specific community, it is more important to create a program targeting the dominant group of people that make up that community.

Waste reduction: Reducing the amount of waste that is created also plays a vital role. This includes getting businesses to reduce packaging, eliminate the use of unwanted advertisements passed out, recycle, and use products or packaging that are recyclable or biodegradable. Besides just getting businesses involved, it also means encouraging the public to recycle and reuse the products they use by (Marais and Armitage, 2004):

• Recycling in their own homes
• Utilizing recycling facilities elsewhere
• Reusing plastic grocery bags or using reusable shopping bags instead
• Reducing the amount of non-biodegradable products they use

Educating the public on what should be recycled and other ways they can help reduce waste should be considered as part of an educational campaign.

Cleaning operations: These include street sweeping, trash and recycling bins in public areas, and large, organized, volunteer cleaning operations like adopt – a – river or block. Street sweeping is very effective at removing trash from the streets, but fairly expensive and only effective if done in areas with a high volume of litter and frequently enough to remove most of the litter before it washes away (Marais and Armitage, 2004). In order to help people not litter it is also important to have enough trash and recycling bins in public areas, and make sure they are properly designed so that litter does not blow or fall out. Adopt-a-river or block programs have proven to be very effective in keeping areas clean, but in some urban areas it is hard to get the community and businesses involved in these programs.

Law enforcement: While there are litter laws in place all across the country that make it illegal for anyone to litter, they are very difficult to enforce unless it is large scale illegal dumping (Florida Litter Study, 1998). Also, the authorities have many other serious crimes to deal with, especially in urban areas, making it difficult to enforce the litter laws.