Under 30? You Just Might Be a Litterbug

Someone under 30 probably threw this cup from a fast food restaurant out their car window. Though this trash was picked up after the photo was taken a lot of effort could have been saved if the cup was thrown away in a trash bin to begin with.

Someone under 30 probably threw this cup from a fast food restaurant out their car window. Though this trash was picked up after the photo was taken a lot of effort could have been saved if the cup was thrown away in a trash bin to begin with.

(Published on Wednesday, August 19, 2015 in The Daily Citizen newspaper, Dalton, GA.)

Recycle & Reuse: Under 30? You Might Be a Litterbug

According to the Litter in America study conducted in 2009 by Keep America Beautiful individuals under 30 are more likely to litter than those who are older. And surprisingly age, not gender, is a significant predictor of littering behavior. Men and women alike contribute to the unsightly trash seen all too often along the side of the road.

Over 51 billion pieces of litter land on US roadways each year according to Keep America Beautiful’s National Visible Litter Survey and Litter Cost Study.  That’s about 6,729 items per mile, most of which are less than four inches long. These items often include bottles, cans, fast food packaging, plastic shopping bags, and cigarette butts. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?

Why people litter is a complicated issue with no easy answer. Lack of convenience, hard to find trash receptacles, bad habits, and even just plain laziness can all contribute to the accumulation of litter in public spaces. Sometimes litter is unintentional too, like when a wrapper flies out of an open car window. But in the end, litter is still trash in the wrong place that needs to be picked up by someone.

One reason people litter maybe no sense of ownership for a public park, waterfront, or road. But the reality is those common spaces are owned and maintained by all of us who are a part of this community. A lack of ownership can lead to the belief that it’s ok to litter because someone else will pick it up for me. Some litterers even claim that they can litter because they’re creating jobs for people who clean up the litter.

The truth is that in our community roadside litter is cleaned up primarily by public works department employees and community service workers. Volunteers also cleanup litter, but their efforts are not as frequent and don’t cover a lot of miles outside of the city. Last Saturday for example Whitfield County Public Works staff and community service workers collected 122 bags of garbage in Whitfield County roads resulted in 2,240 pounds of litter being removed from local roads.

Don’t you think that the time and effort of these individuals could be better used elsewhere? According to the Litter in America study, litter cleanup costs the U.S. more than an estimated $11.5 billion each year, with businesses paying $9.1 billion and governments, schools, and other organizations picking up the remainder.

Unfortunately cleanup efforts are needed since litter accumulated along a road or in a community invites more litter. A fast food bag thrown out at an intersection becomes an invitation for the next person to throw their trash out at the same spot. Before you know it there’s a whole trash bag full of trash to pickup that didn’t need to be there in the first place. Who wants to live on street that is constantly peppered with wrappers, cups, and other bits of garbage?

If you’re under 30 you may have witnessed friends, family, or neighbors littering. And while you may recognize that littering is bad for the environment and the community as a whole what can you do to encourage them to stop? Here are some tips from www.LitteringIsWrongToo.org hosted by Keep America Beautiful. For starters set a good example by not littering. If you see litter, pick it up. Even if it’s just one empty bag for chips or a candy wrapper – that’s one less piece of trash on the road.

Place a bag in your vehicle to collect personal trash securely until you can get to an appropriate trash container. Keep extra trash bags and plastic shopping bags in your car so you and your friends won’t have an excuse to leave trash on the side of the road or abandoned in a parking lot.

At home tie bags of household trash shut so that the bags won’t open when they are picked up by the garbage truck. Secure the lid on your trash cart to keep the trash contained until pickup day. If you have a recycling bin place loose paper and lighter items on the bottom and heavier containers on top to. Securing trash and recyclables at the curb will help keep trash from getting blown out onto the street.

Don’t forget to secure loads on the back of your pickup truck. Whether your moving furniture or just taking garbage to a Convenience Center, articles in the back of a vehicle, no matter how large can fly out when you’re traveling at high speeds. Secure your load with rope, a plastic tarp or cargo netting. Ask yourself if you would feel safe driving behind your own vehicle.


Liz Swafford is the Recycling and Education Program Coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority.  Have questions about recycling in Whitfield County? Call 706-278-5001, or e-mail lswafford@dwswa.org.