What is litter? It simply is trash put in the wrong place, in a place where it doesn't belong.
Trash can belong any number of places - in the garbage can, in the recycling bin, in a reuse facility, at the sanitary landfill or the waste-to-energy plant. Where it does not belong is on the ground, in the rivers or oceans or blowing in the air.
Litter originates from seven major sources. Four are stationary sources where people live and work - household trash collection areas, business trash collection areas, business and industrial loading docks and construction and demolition sites. Three are moving sources - uncovered trucks, motorists and pedestrians.
Although there are many reasons given for littering, two of the most common are not having a disposal container available and being too lazy to walk to the recycling or trash container.
Although most people will agree litter is ugly, most do not know it has economic, legal and environmental repercussions as well.
Litter is ugly. No one likes to live where there is litter. Neighborhoods with a litter problem usually have higher crime, lower property values and less pride in their neighborhood. Litter begets litter. A place that is littered tends to encourage more litter i.e. a dropped off washing machine soon encourages other debris and a dump site is formed. So, the quicker dropped litter is picked up, the less chance it has of accumulating.
Litter is also expensive. Every year, PennDOT spends millions of dollars cleaning up litter. Houses for sale in littered neighborhoods usually don’t get the best prices and owners lose money. Fires started by dropped or dumped litter cause millions of dollars of damage every year.
Litter is illegal. Most people are unaware of littering fines. In Pennsylvania, if you are caught littering from a vehicle, you can be fined up to $300. Most localities also have fines for businesses or pedestrians caught littering. Many people are unaware that the person opening a package of gum and dropping the wrapper on the sidewalk is doing an illegal act and, if caught, could face charges. Littering is against the law.
Litter hurts people. Every year in Pennsylvania, there are numerous vehicle accidents caused by litter. People in these accidents are injured and sometimes even killed in their attempts to avoid litter in the roadways. Young children fall on litter in playgrounds, get cut and need medical attention.
Litter also harms plants and degrades natural areas. When garbage is dumped, it can kill or stunt plant growth. Few people think about the harm to natural areas from litter.
Litter kills or injures animals. Many small animals crawl into bottles or jars and get stuck and slowly starve to death. Animals get caught in plastic six pack rings, plastic bags, fishing line and a multitude of throwaways. Birds that are stuck, can’t fly away from danger. Sometimes animals caught in six pack rings are strangled as they grow too big for the opening. Animals get cut, infected and die. Every year, millions of birds, fish and animals die from litter.
Litter is a problem that can be controlled. Education is an important tool. People who are aware of the dangers of litter often make more of an effort to always put their trash the correct place. They also spread the word to others they see littering and teach them to dispose of garbage the right way. Community clean ups encourage people to take pride in their community and keep it clean. Quick removal of litter keeps it from growing into an unmanageable dump site. People can make a difference. Litter can be conquered.
MYTH: Litter control is not important.
FACT: Litter may not be the most dramatic or exciting of the many problems that threaten the quality of our environment, but it is a problem which affects everyone in the community
MYTH: Only "certain types" of people litter.
FACT: "Litterbugs" can be found among people of every age, sex, race and ethnic origin, at every level of society and in all geographic locations
MYTH: Littering creates jobs.
FACT: LITTER COSTS MONEY. Pennsylvania taxpayers pay millions of dollars annually for roadside cleanup. PennDOT spends this amount to clean up only the worst areas - roads with high litter accumulation.
MYTH: No one notices litter.
FACT: LITTER DESTROYS THE BEAUTY OF A COMMUNITY. Tourism is an important part of Pennsylvania's economy. People come from all over the world to see the beauty of our countryside, towns and cities. When litter mars their enjoyment, Pennsylvania loses valuable tourist dollars.
MYTH: Litter doesn't hurt anyone.
FACT: Litter is a safety hazard. Litter is a breeding ground for fire and disease.
FACT: Litter impacts car insurance rates because thousands of auto accidents are litter-related.
FACT: Ingesting litter causes injury or death to thousands of pets, wild and farm animals.
FACT: Litter is a breeding ground for rats and disease-causing bacteria.
MYTH: Litter doesn't affect the economy.
FACT: Litter discourages economic development because it impacts real estate values. Good stores and important businesses will not locate in a community which lacks the pride to effectively control litter.