We’ve been officially told not to litter for over half a century now. The first public service announcement for litter prevention ran in 1956, and since then it’s been all pictures of ducks caught in plastic can rings. But still the message isn’t exactly ubiquitous. Just last week I saw a construction worker throw a crushed can down on some gravel he was flattening. The optimist in me wants to think that perhaps he dropped it and was planning on going for it in a minute. But that doesn’t explain the litter situation at our neighborhood park or along just about any highway. Let’s face it: We still have a ways to go in litter prevention. Below we’ll explore how to stop litterbugs, the grassroots movements trying to make a change and the real impact of litter.
Some facts about litterThe North Carolina Department of Public Safety has some interest, albeit depressing, facts about litter.
- In 2014, U.S. taxpayers paid almost $11 billion dollars to clean up litter. That comes to 10 times more than trash pick-up.
- In 2013, the North Carolina Department of Transportation paid over $16 million to clean up about 7 MILLION pounds of litter from the roadside.
- A mile stretch of highway has about 16,000 pieces of litter. If cans, bottles and newspapers were all recycled, they’d be worth $300 million. Instead what is turned in is worth $90 million.
- A cigarette butt thrown down as litter takes 12 years to break down and releases cadmium, lead and arsenic into soil and bodies of water.
- Lit cigarettes thrown out of car windows cause forest fires.
Further, according to the EPA, marine litter causes a shocking number of problems: killing wildlife that gets caught in it or ingests it, posing serious safety risks to humans (as in medical waste and discarded netting to divers), acting as a means of transport to invasive species as pieces of litter travel along currents, thousands of dollars lost in fishing revenue as hauls become contaminated with oil containers, paint tins and soil filters, driving away tourism at coastal areas. Even to this day, litter isn’t a joke. So what can you do about it?