The impact of litter on the community: By: Sarah Geers


600 Block of East Franklin Street
The impact of litter on the community

The presence of litter has a variety of impacts on communities ranging from health issues to economic impacts. Most commonly it is seen as an aesthetic issue, but what is less understood is how this aesthetic problem impacts other issues in a community.

Residents’ perception of neighborhood decline and disorder: In a group of studies discussed in The Florida Litter Study, litter has been identified as a major indicator of neighborhood decline and disorder. Other indicators of neighborhood decline and disorder include vandalism, abandoned buildings, graffiti, and vacant lots. Of all of the indicators assessed in a study done by Perkins, Meeks, and Taylor in 1992, litter was found to have the strongest correlation with perceptions of neighborhood decline and disorder (as in Florida Litter Study, 1998). A study by Skogan in 1990, indicates that the effects of this perception of neighborhood decline range from a decrease in property values to an increase in crime, or at least an increase in criminals’ perception that crime will be tolerated (as in Florida Litter Study, 1998).

Increase in crime: This study goes on to explain that as people’s perceptions of neighborhood decline increase, it is more likely that crime will occur and that criminals will be drawn to the area because it appears more likely that criminal behavior will be tolerated or ignored. A study by DeFrances and Titus in 1994 found a statistically significant relationship between neighborhood disorder and burglary outcome indicating that burglaries are more likely to be completed in neighborhoods with higher levels of disorder (as in Florida Litter Study, 1998).

Property values and business: The study by Skogan indicates that the effect of this perception of neighborhood decline and increase in crime can also negatively impact property values and investment interest (as in Florida Litter Study, 1998).

Cost of litter to the community and local government: Aside from lowering property values, the cost of cleaning up litter has an added impact of the economy. In 1993, the US spent $131 million on roadside litter clean up (Florida Litter Study, 1998). This does not include the cost of beach clean ups, street sweeping, localized flood damage from litter clogged storm drains, or any other clean up or litter prevention program funded by the government. From a study done by Baud and Iudicello in 1990 in Texas, local governments there spend over $14 million annually to clean up their beaches (as in Armitage and Rooseboom, 1999). A more recent estimate of the total annual cost of litter prevention, cleanup and disposal in the state of California was $375.5 million (Earth Resource Foundation). These figures should present a basic idea of the kind of money that is spent cleaning up litter that could be used for other programs.

Harmful to humans and wildlife: Excessive litter can have damaging effects on wildlife and be harmful to human health. Litter on streets or sidewalks, if not cleaned up, will most likely end up in a river, lake, or ocean. That trash can have a serious impact on the aquatic life in the receiving body of water (Marais and Armitage, 2004). For instance, a fish or bird might mistake a piece of plastic for food and choke on it. Certain types of litter contain nutrients that may build up in excess in the water and cause algal blooms which deplete oxygen levels (Petrie et al.). This in turn creates a lower quality aquatic habitat where fewer delicate species can survive. Litter can also degrade water quality if there are other harmful chemicals associated with it, which can be harmful to humans if, for example, they eat fish from that body of water. Another way that litter can cause health problems is if it builds up and attracts rats or other pests that may carry disease (Petrie et al.).


  1. The Mayor tried to implement a “92 gallon” trash can and everyone yelled like it was the worst thing anyone tried to do the city. The intercity yelled “foul” the loudest and the project was withdrawn.

    Most every city of Evansville’s size supplies a 92 gallon trash can to eash residence. The trash container can accomodate the households trash for a week, but would be resposibilty to pull the container by the curb in order that the mechicanic trash truck could effciently pick up the trash can.

    What a better way to eliminate, plastic bags, cardboard boxes and broken container that add to the litter of the Evansville community.

    But the citizens of Evansville never travel outside the city to see what other communities do. “Gee if its new or different someone must be picking my pocket” is the attitude a great number of citizens of Evansville have.

    Mr Mayor..lead us…. and give us our 92 gallon trash can to get the trash of our streets!

    • With all due respect Mr. Bray, the size of the trash cans are not the cause of people throwing garbage and cigarette butts out their car windows. We agree with you regarding what other communities have done by enlarging the cans. The other thing that other places have done is to promote recycling and make it easy to do so with curbside recycling with the appropriate cans and inserts. The fools that throw stuff out of their windows would not change even with a 500 gallon can. Littering needs to be a badge of shame and have a hefty fine associated with it to be effective with the idiots that live like that. And yes we agree that the Mayor has tried but failed to make a difference.

      • I believe we both are on the same page. The trash cans are only a step in the right direction. You hit on the other steps. BUT we have to take that first step. Lead Mr Mayor, Lead!

Comments are closed.