The Phenomenon of Litter

Why do people litter? 

Is there a way to prevent it?  Is there a sense of apathy?  What is the thought at the moment of littering?  Are we getting away with something that our parents, grandparents, authority figures would disapprove of?  Is it a small way to show our anonymity, in that the only witnesses are the litterer and those who may have witnessed it?

October 22, 2010

The above was taken with a telephoto lens at an event in Las Vegas.  Now, the event handed out signs, literature, and water bottles to the crowd.  Space was probably a concern in the area of the crowd, so no trash receptacles were visible.  (Trash cans were placed along the exit route).

What is the difference between someone who litters and someone who doesn’t?

For me, I have had experiences picking up litter in the past.  From the normal scout experiences of community cleanups, to picking up a parking lot (mostly cigarette butts).  The parking lot sticks in my mind, I was a dishwasher in college and remembered the task:  pick up litter before the restaurant opened-every plastic bag, piece of paper, and cigarette butt.  I remember the cooks smoking at the back dock, and consciously not discarding their used cigarettes to the ground and finding the dumpster to throw away their cigarette butts.  While it was appreciated, I knew the only reason they didn’t add to the litter in the parking lot was due to my presence and my task.  And I know this because one of the cooks made a comment and shamed their colleague into picking up a butt after letting it hit the ground, “Why are you adding to his work?”

The hiking outdoor ethos of “Leave No Trace” fits my mentality, and makes sense to my experiences – not only in the backcountry, but in every day and everywhere life.  If I see my 3-year old drop a wrapper or tissue or whatever, I tell her to pick it up and find the trash can.  I know that somehow that any litter will become a burden of someone else, and why should I create work for someone else? 

If I have trash, I have no reason to drop it on the ground, because I know that I will find one of these sooner or later.  (Hopefully one that has capacity for my deposit)

Trash Can

 The idea of litter begets litter is another theory, more of “if they can be lazy and litter, then why not me.”

Keep America Beuatiful puts it this way:

“Individuals are much more likely to litter into a littered environment.  And once there, it attracts more litter.  By contrast, a clean community discourages littering and improves overall community quality of life.  Availability and proximity to trash and recycling receptacles also impact whether someone chooses to litter.”

Don’t create work for someone else, pickup after yourself, and if you want to help – pick up a piece of trash when you are out and about.


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