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What’s in Your Town’s Litter?

2012 October 23

By Nancy Grundahl

Litter! Oh how I hate it! I hate it so much I decided to do something about it. I started picking it up. Every work day I take a bag with me and pick up litter on my walk home from the train station. I am always amazed at how much I find.

After a while I noticed a curious thing about the litter in the town where I live. Most of our litter is food-related: beverage cans, bottles and bottle caps, straws, candy and gum wrappers, take-out containers, plastic utensils, napkins… A distant second is paper, mainly ATM and store receipts and old mail that escaped from our paper recycling pickup on Mondays.

So, I searched the web and found, much to my surprise, that what I am finding is not unusual. Food-related waste makes up the highest percentage of litter in other places in the U.S. too. Here is a sample of what I found.

·    Northeast 2010 Litter Survey of Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire Conducted for the American Beverage Association

o    “Miscellaneous paper and plastic (odd scraps of material) comprised the two largest components of litter; candy, snack wrappers, and fast food packaging together represented between 29 and 30 percent of litter; and beverage containers was similar, ranging from 5.6 percent to 7.9 percent.”

·    Clean Water Action – California

o    “Most of the products collected were food and beverage packaging: 48 percent food packaging, 19 percent beverage packaging, 15 percent non-packaging, 9 percent other packaging, 9 percent tobacco packaging.”

·    City of Hampton, Virginia

  • “Fast food, snack, tobacco, and other packaging dominated the types of litter that were larger than 4 inches in size – they were 46 percent of the total.”
  • “Main Types of Litter – Fast Food Waste 33 percent”
  • “The items most often found during litter cleanups are fast-food wrappers. The second-most-often found items are aluminum beer cans, followed very closely by soda cans.”

Have you ever thought about what’s in your town’s litter? The next time there is a cleanup day, go a step further and count and categorize the wastes you collect. You might even want to take some photos. Or, do as I have, start picking up litter on your walks and see what you find.

Why is this important? What you discover will be helpful when looking for the best approach to preventing the litter in the first place. When you figure out the sources, you’ll have a better idea of how to make it stop.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy also writes for the “Healthy Waters for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region” blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. dale abbott permalink
    October 23, 2012

    WHY NOT CHARGE A GO TAX ON FAST FOOD , THIS WAY LOCAL TOWNS AND CAN
    OFF SET THE COST TO HAVE TO PAY LOCAL WORKERS TO CLEAN UP THE MESS?

    ALSO, IMPOSE A DEPOSIT LIKE CONCORD NH HAS STARTING 1-2013
    MAKE THE LOCAL BUSINESSES CLEAN UP THEIR PRODUCT MESS. PEOPLE DRINK
    A LOT OF COFFEE. A NICKLE OR DIME WOULD ADD UP QUICKLY. THINK SMARTER.

  2. wade permalink
    October 29, 2012

    My property borders 1500 ft on a main road and even though my house is some 500 ft off the road I keep the grass cut along the road. This a chore most of the time due to litter. I too find most of the litter to be fast food packages, paper and drink bottles/cans. Alarmingly though is the fact that the beer cans and liquor bottles are as plentiful as the paper waste. I relate this to undifference of the “low life” and an “uneducated” easy come, easy go society.

  3. Kush Maharael permalink
    November 3, 2012

    Yeah,American Trash is all over the place-accompanied by attitudinal excess-that the proverbial “Bottom Line”, alone,is the only real thing that’s important.Whereas this may be an ingredient in the current psychocapitalism,preclusion of “refuse repurposing” revenues-ie,redemption fees-is not supported–for everything from tv’s,sofas’,desks,furniture,the kitchen sink,stoves,refrig’s,books,cans,bottles,diapers;could be,and should be put in place to offset the tradition of “mental Garbage”–for the hundreds of millions,and billions of “consumers and refuse-ers” currently participating.

  4. Danial ahmad permalink
    November 6, 2012

    My property borders 1500 ft on a main road and even though my house is some 500 ft off the road I keep the grass cut along the road. This a chore most of the time due to litter.

  5. Denice permalink
    November 10, 2012

    Self-discipline is all we need to help our environment. If we only behave on the things we thrown and aware of its effects, we can diminish the garbage in the street. There are many ways on how to go green, we just use our imagination and ideas and these litters will turn into usable items.

  6. Sports Probe permalink
    November 10, 2012

    nice post..thank you for sharing

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