The Problem

Trash affects us all. Whether it’s a bottle floating down the river, a bag stuck in the tree, or old wrappers strewn about the playground, it’s irritating. It makes you feel bad about your neighborhood, it indicates neglect, and it attracts even more litter–and rats.

It’s also expensive to clean up. Local governments spend millions each year to clean litter from the side of the road, and businesses organize (and spend even more) to keep shopping areas clean in order to attract visitors and shoppers.

It’s likely even toxic. Most of the trash in the water is plastic (it’s durable, and mostly floats), and it absorbs other petrochemicals (oil attracts oil). In other words, that piece of a foam cup is likely loaded up with pesticides and stuff that washed off the roads. (This is one reason it’s smart to wear gloves during a trash cleanup.)

And then there are the photos of the animals trapped in it.

Forty percent of people admit that they litter. A lot of it is laziness. You’re walking down the street eating a candy bar. You finish it. And there’s no trash can around, so you drop the wrapper on the ground. (Well, not you. You’re reading this website.)

It’s also rebellion. People who admit that they litter also say that they face a lot of stress and feel isolated from the broader community. They want to act out and they are pretty sure they won’t get caught. Littering is a tiny act that isn’t that big a deal, and the bottle wasn’t broken when they put it down. Or they crumpled up the wrapper, so it wasn’t as big.

And they’re creating jobs for people who have to come clean it up.

All of these things were actually said in research conducted by the Alice Ferguson Foundation and OpinionWorks.

How do we address this?