Few things can be more discouraging than to see the result of extensive littering in your neighborhood, jogging or walking path, or work location. When you see the consequences of it in a beautiful natural environment like a city, state, or national park it can be downright maddening.
To see trash scattered around the majestic landscape of a park reserve where trash cans are prevalent is heartbreaking. Even in areas that are further into the wilderness where it’s not practical to have trash containers, there is no justification for it.
So who does the littering? Ignorant, lazy, immature, cowards are the people who do it in my opinion. Here’s a definition of how each of these descriptive words applies to this behavior.
- Ignorance – Lacking knowledge of the impact that it has on the environment and the state of mind of people who see it.
- Laziness – Being unwilling to make the effort to do what’s right believing that someone else will pick it up.
- Immaturity – Being self-centered and unconcerned about how it will affect others are the hallmarks of this childish behavior.
- Cowardice – Being unable to stand up to friends, do what’s right, be a courageous leader, and put it in a trash can.
Doing community service is not normally associated with self-improvement. The truth is that performing acts of service for your community, an individual, or a group renders immense unexpected personal growth and fulfillment. Becoming the leader or getting involved with a littering problem will provide more benefits to you than you can imagine. Some of the things you’ll need to do may require courage because you’ve never done them before or you’re worried about what others will think. Well, that in itself provides an opportunity for personal growth!
Here are 8 littering problem solutions.
1. Contact Local Government Authorities
Contacting city hall takes less time and effort than you might think. Most city governments have a designated person or department that handles complaints about littering.
Just call the main number, ask for the person or department that handles these complaints and give them the details. Be sure to get the exact street names and addresses before you call.
I called the city hall in my town about a littering problem on the route where I do my power walking. It was really quite easy and you can submit the report anonymously if you want. They said that they would contact the responsible homeowner associations to instruct their groundskeepers to do a better job. Within a few weeks, I noticed that most of the trash had been picked up. Unfortunately, the trash slowly accumulated between visits by the groundskeepers, so I had to take further action. I’ll explain what I did later.
2. Contact Elected Representatives
Contacting elected officials for help in solving your littering problem can result in action being taken in a matter of days, weeks, months, or years depending on the complexity of the request.
In areas where the city is directly responsible for its maintenance, a simple call to the city council representative for that district might do the trick. I once contacted a city council representative about accumulating trash and overgrown groundcover plants on a bridge off-ramp. I sent him my complaint in an email and his secretary responded with their plan of action within 24 hours. In less than two weeks, all the trash was removed and the groundcover plants were neatly trimmed. I was so impressed that I sent them an email praising their quick and thorough response.
Things like getting stricter penalties, signs, trash cans, and maintenance require a lot of time before you see any results. Your efforts in initiating these projects may prove to be very beneficial in solving your problem permanently, however. So I’d recommend that you get the ball rolling by contacting your elected representative if you have a serious problem.
3. Contact Property & Business Owners
Sometimes a letter to the property or business owner will solve the problem. These can be done anonymously as well, but it’s very important to be polite and respectful if you want to get favorable results. If you need some ideas on how to write the letter download copies of the ones I referred to in my article entitled, “How to Handle Noisy Neighbors & Their Barking Dogs.”
4. Contact Local Television News Stations
Some local television news stations promote the fact that they will investigate and help to solve problems within the community. My local station’s website has a page devoted to this service called “You Ask We Investigate.” This page has a link to an email form where you can submit your problem. A statement on this page reads, “We will do our best to respond to all your emails. Please understand that we may not be able to get to all of them.” They devote a segment of one of their broadcasts to reporting success stories.
I submitted a detailed account of the littering problem I was addressing but I did not get any response from them. I suspect that my issue wasn’t sensational enough for their producers. Don’t let this discourage you from trying this. You never know what might happen in your particular situation. It’s always better to try all sources when attempting to solve a difficult problem.
5. Post Stop Littering Signs
Create a sign in your word processor or other software that challenges the behavior of those who litter.
I created one with the following message. I attached about 30 of them to utility boxes and streetlight poles along the route of daily power walk using clear packing tape.
Ignorant, lazy, immature, cowards.
Intelligent, strong, courageous, leaders.
Put it in a trash can!
This is an aggressive message, I know. But I am not convinced that gentle statements like, “Help Keep America Beautiful” do much good. I feel that they do not challenge the people who litter enough.
Here’s a downloadable copy of this sign using a bold font. It is in PDF format. You’ll need Adobe Reader to view and make a copy of it. To download a FREE copy of this software, go to Adobe.com.
Download a PDF copy of this sign here.
6. Organized a Community Cleanup Event
Many communities have annual cleanup days. They usually only last a few hours, can be a lot of fun, and are very gratifying when you finish. You might be able to speak with the leader of this event and ask them for their advice in solving your particular problem. The leader may even be willing to add your area to their cleanup schedule.
One of the most prominent organizers of this type of event is the Ocean Conservancy. They lead the world’s biggest cleanup effort every year in September. It’s called the International Coastal Cleanup.
Another option is to organize your own cleanup event. After you’ve selected an ideal date and time (good weather, weekends, & no holidays) you’ll need to promote the event. Sounds like a lot of work but it really isn’t.
In order to get participants, you’ll need to contact the managing authorities in the area where the problem exists. For example, you’ll want to contact the homeowner association presidents, apartment managers, business owners, and civic organization leaders. Just explain the problem and ask for their help in promoting the cleanup event by putting an announcement in their newsletters, billing statements, bulletin boards, or other communication mediums.
They may ask you for a flyer so be sure to have one prepared before you call. Just make one using your word processor or other software that includes this information: Event name, date, time, location, contact email or phone number, and some words of inspiration to encourage participation.
A number of years ago I added a community cleanup event to the activity schedule of a non-profit singles organization that I founded, and once led. The schedule typically included fun things like dances, mixers, and brunches. These events always had a great turnout. The dances regularly drew hundreds of people.
Although I promoted the importance of community service for singles, in particular, only a few people showed up for the cleanup event the first year. It wasn’t a glamorous job picking up trash along the main road through town, but that wasn’t the point. A reporter from the local newspaper I had contacted arrived as we finished and took our picture and asked us several questions. After the other members saw our photograph and story in the newspaper, I got dozens of volunteers for future cleanup events. Apparently, publicity is an aphrodisiac. 😀
7. Give them a Place to Put Their Trash
Even though it’s a poor excuse to litter when a trash can isn’t nearby, any effort to reduce or eliminate the problem is worth the effort.
If you notice that a particular area near a bus stop, fast-food restaurant, or convenience store has a lot of trash, ask the authorities to put a trash can there or put something there yourself that can serve the purpose.
During my walks, I noticed new litter around a bus stop almost daily. I contacted city hall and suggested that they put a trash can there but nothing ever happen. Considering the city’s budget deficit and recent layoffs at the time that I called, I am sure that adding trash cans and a pickup schedule was extremely low on their list of priorities.
I picked up the trash around the bus stop several times and then I got the idea to provide a place for people to put it. I attached a large plastic shopping bag to a utility box right in front of the bus stop. No one ever used it. Then I noticed a pile of empty 15-gallon plant containers that were left on an abandoned condominium project along my walking route.
I placed one of these containers right next to the bus stop. I put a few rocks at the bottom to prevent it from tipping over or blowing away. I was amazed to discover that it was actually being used! From that point on, I rarely saw any trash at that bus stop. I’ve had to empty the container from time to time though. I usually leave a bottle or can inside to encourage its use.
8. Become a Trash Terminator
One way to improve or eliminate the problem is to pick up the trash yourself. Not only will you appreciate the trash free environment, but it may encourage others to follow your example. In addition, several articles I found on the Internet state that people are less likely to litter in clean areas.
This is what I did on my power walking route. I also do the same whenever I take a hike in the state and national parks close to where I live. I just grab two or three plastic shopping bags as I head out. Then I pick up any trash I see as I walk or hike. I usually note the location of trash on way to my turnaround point and then collect it on my way back.
As I reached the end of a hike one day with three bags full of trash, an old Asian couple asked what I was doing. Apparently, they saw me picking up things. I told them that I was picking up trash as I did during every hike. The old woman looked at me with a bright smile and tears in her eyes and said, “God bless you!” I looked over at the old man sitting next to her and saw that he had tears in his eyes as well.
The first time I walked on these particular streets I noticed a lot of trash on what would otherwise be an ideal walking route. The landscaping was attractive, there were minimal vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and it had a couple of gradual inclines, which enhances a power walking route.
Since the walking route wasn’t getting cleaned up often enough and staying that way, I decided to see what I could do by picking up a little trash during each walk. I started out taking one plastic shopping bag per walk, and then it grew to two, and then three! By the time I reached about 70 bags of collected trash, the area was completely transformed. At that point, I decided to limit my trash pick up duties to two regular size bags per walk to keep up the area. I did this to gain some momentum by having the area clean over an extended period, which I understand discourages littering. After several months, the entire route was immaculate. Altogether, I probably filled about 150 bags with trash.
This amount of trash is incredible if you consider that the majority of my walking route is on a road in a relatively new master-planned community. Part of the problem is that this road has no houses on it. So those who litter can do it without being seen. Another issue is the fact that I picked up a good portion of this trash near the abandoned condominium project. This area only represents about 2% of my walking route.
One day as I was walking and picking up trash, a young man in his late teens stopped me and said, “I think what you are doing is great! My parents carry shopping bags and pick up trash during their walks along this path too!” I said to him, “I think that it’s great that you feel the way you do about what your parents and I are doing.” I was very impressed by this young man’s attitude because the majority of people who litter are young males, especially if they are in a group, according to an article I read on the Internet. The message on my sign is partially targeted to them.
On my power walking route (2-3 miles round-trip) where I placed my signs and maintained it for a few months, I would estimate a 90 percent success in reducing the littering problem.
I was so enthused by the success that I decided to add more signs bringing the total to about 45. That turned out to be too many because someone took many of my signs down once I reached that number. I concluded that having such a high concentration of signs created too much of an “in your face” posture. I also decided that I should soften the message on the sign a bit. These changes are reflected in the downloadable version shown above (#5).
I suspect that whoever removed the signs was an immature person(s) who often litters themselves. I drew this conclusion because the signs were ripped off incompletely and thrown on the ground.
Although it has only been a few weeks since the signs were torn down, I’ve been astonished to find that the littering problem has not returned to where it was. Apparently, I gained some momentum by challenging people’s behavior with my signs and keeping the area clean for several months. Looking back, I should have exchanged a few of the signs with a message of gratitude once the area was clean and the problem was at a minimum.
Update: 3 months later – To my utter amazement, the littering problem has not returned! There has been some littering near the abandoned condominium project, but areas like that are the most difficult. My plan is to find out which bank now owns the property, tell them about the problem, and ask them to maintain it.
Update: 12 months later – The littering problem still has not returned to where it was. Except for the abandoned condominium project, I’ve seen very little litter in the area. If I do see a piece of litter here and there, it’s usually gone in a few days.
I believe that none of the signs would have been taken down if I had been more conservative in the number I put up and if I had gotten the support of the homeowner associations (HOA). If I were a resident in that area, I would have campaigned for support and participation at HOA meetings. That way information about the effort to eliminate the problem would have gotten out to the entire population. And once the perpetrators heard about what was going on they would have been less inclined to litter or remove signs.
At the bus stop location where I placed signs and a makeshift trash can (15-gal plant container) and picked up any litter I saw for a few weeks initially, I’d estimate a 99 percent success in eliminating the littering problem. It has been very gratifying to walk by that area and see it clean and notice that people have used the trash cans.
Update: 18 months later – The area around the bus stop, which now has no signs, has remained nearly litter free. I’ve had to empty the makeshift trash can every two weeks or so. I just take a plastic shopping bag with me when I go on my power walks and empty it on my way back.
For more information, go to the Keep American Beautiful website here: kab.org.
Improving or eliminating a littering problem is not easy, but the result can be very rewarding. And it might help to improve your property value as well. Regardless of your degree of success, you still win because you tried to make a difference and that strengthens your character. It also gives you a natural high. 🙂