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Keeping the Quiet Corner Beautiful

Litter collected in a walk around the block
CT has had an anti-litter law since 1897. These 139 items were all collected on the roadside while walking around one block in Woodstock. Studies show that the more litter there is, the more inclined people are to litter.

Preventing Litter

Up to 40% of litter may be accidental - for example, trash that blows out of garbage cans, dumpsters, or the back of an open truck. But the remaining 60% is intentional.  Of course all the litter you see in the environment comes from people. Litter along roads is often whipped out the window of a car, where people are spending more and more time while snacking, smoking and eating. 

There are three main reasons why people litter: 

  1. They don’t care. They’re not the owner of the property, or they believe someone else, like a maintenance or highway worker, will pick up after them. 
  2. Litter has already accumulated, and acts like a magnet.
  3. They are lazy and believe the world is their garbage can. “People litter for the simple reason that it is the easiest way to get rid of unwanted things," according to Francis T. McAndrew, a professor of environmental psychology at Knox College. "You do not have to take the trouble to find a place to dispose of it and carry it there."  However, one study found that most littering occurs within 16 feet of a bin.

People living in rural areas actually litter more than urban residents, but litter may be more obvious in the city because it tends to be concentrated.  Cigarette butts and filters are the most common item, making up about half of roadside litter.  The cellulose fibers can take 15 years to break down, and birds and fish may mistake it for food, which is a problem since it contains nicotine. About 1/4 of litter is recycable aluminum cans and plastic and glass bottles.

The stereotypical litterbug is perceived as disgusting, disrespectful, lazy, ignorant and dirty. In reality, people of all ages and backgrounds have been observed littering.  Even though most people want a clean environment, about three quarters admit they have probably littered in the last 5 years.  

In Connecticut, the price tag for picking up litter is estimated at around $2 million (source: Hartford Advocate). A NJ survey estimated it costs $1.29 to pick up each piece of litter under a paid pick up program. Litter is not just an expensive eyesore – it can be dangerous.  Think broken glass, used condoms or needles, and tires that create mosquito breeding grounds.  It can block storm drains.  An estimated 18% of garbage dropped on the ground ends up being washed into our waterways. And it can impact the environment long term.  According to The Women’s Environmental Network, a disposable diaper takes 250-500 years to decompose.

People who do not litter are generally more aware, care about the environment, have a positive self-image and attitude, and a sense of community and empathy for others.  Here are some tips how you can help fight litter:

  • Set an example for your family, friends and co-workers by taking responsibility for the waste you generate. Use trash cans and carry a litterbag or portable ashtray in your car. Make sure your trash can has a securely fastened lid.
  • Cleaning up does help. Adopt a spot by a stop sign, or when you go for a walk or a run, bring along a sturdy collection bag.  For families, make a game out of who can find the most items. Wear gloves and be safe around traffic.
  • If you see someone pitching garbage out a window, accurately jot down the license plate, and report it to the State Police. They will investigate.
  • Businesses can offer litter bags, ash receptacles and convenient trash containers, and minimize the amount of packaging and junk mail for their products.

For more tips on what you or your organization can do to prevent litter, see Keep America Beautiful at www.kab.org.


More Information and References:

  • Adopt a Highway Program: This is run under the auspices of the state Department of Transportation. Businesses and non-profit groups can pick a section of state highway and they're responsible for picking up litter along its roadsides. Affiliates are: Greater Hartford, 1107 Cromwell Ave., Rocky Hill, (860) 258-4502; Eastern Connecticut, 171 Salem Turnpike, Norwich 06360, (860) 823-3211; Greater New Haven, 140 Pond Lily Ave., New Haven, (203) 389-310; Northwestern Connecticut, 359 South Main St., Thomaston, (860) 585-2785
  • Connecticut State Police, (860) 685-8000 if you witness littering from a car. If you have a license plate number they may investigate.
  • Keep America Beautiful, 1010 Washington Blvd. Stamford, (203) 323-8987, www.kab.org
  • Hartford Proud and Beautiful, 986-4485
  • New Haven We Mean Clean, (203) 946-8087
  • Urban Litter Partnership, U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1620 I Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 20036, (202) 861-6776, www.usmayors.org
  • National Soft Drink Association 1101 16th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 20036, (202) 463-6732, www.nsda.org
  • Auntie Litter Inc., P.O. Box 660128, Birmingham, AL 35266-0128, (205) 967-4374, www.auntielitter.org
  • U.S. EPA Habitat Protection - marine debris abatement
  • Litter Butt.com - "The world is not your garbage can"
Conservation Commission
Give a Hoot. Don't Pollute.

- Woodsy Owl