Let's Stop Litter

Michigan has long been known for its beautiful beaches and shores. And we have a reputation for keeping our roadsides clean. But litter is an increasing issue. While Adopt-A-Highway and Adopt-A-Beach programs do a wonderful job of cleaning locations a few times a year, people are still thoughtless and careless at other times, leaving cigarette butts, food packing and other items for someone else to pick up.

What makes up Michigan's Litter?
Volunteers from MRP combed through over a ton of roadside litter picked up during a recent Adopt-A-Highway event. The ton of trash came from all corners of Kent County, MI – 46 miles of country roads. It was sorted and weighed. It included:
    > 514.1 pounds of newspapers, magazines, paper,        plastic and fast food wrappers/containers
    > 227.7  pounds of carpet, clothing, furniture and        building materials
    > 204.2 pounds of auto parts
    > 34.8 pounds of beverage containers covered by        the bottle deposit law
    > 29.4 pounds of water, tea and juice containers
    > 23.6 pounds of milk, liquor and wine containers

Of the 507 beverage containers found, 251 – almost half -- were deposit items that had been discarded by drivers. In other words, the 10-cent deposit didn't stop them from littering. Only education will really stop litter.

Our nation’s premier anti-litter organization, Keep America Beautiful, Inc., places similar importance on education as a key factor in reducing litter. Their 2010 Litter Fact Sheet reported on their 2009 National Visible Litter Survey as follows:

Whatís changed in 40 years?
A comparative analysis of the 2009 research with KABís national litter study conducted in 1969 found that successful education, ongoing clean-up efforts, and changes in packaging are having an impact:

  • Visible litter on our nationís roadways has decreased approximately 61% in the past 40 years.
  • Paper, metal, glass, and beverage container litter has decreased by 74.4% since the 1969 national study.

So what are the best and most cost effective ways to address litter reduction?

Although bottle bills have proven effective at recovering beverage containers, reducing litter is better left to more comprehensive programs

Where comprehensive litter programs operate more than five years, the roads are 40 percent cleaner than in deposit states.

Comprehensive litter control programs work

  • A statewide initiative, “Don’t Mess with Texas,” reduced total litter 67 percent after
    six years.
  • Comprehensive litter control programs succeed because they address the behavioral component of the litter issue through education and deterrence. Community involvement and clean-up programs, along with stiff fines for littering and dumping are key to the success of these programs.
  • After just two years, the roadsides in states with comprehensive litter control programs are 15 percent cleaner than roadsides in deposit states. Where comprehensive litter programs operate more than five years, the roads are 40 percent cleaner than in deposit states. The reason? Deposits ignore 90 percent of the problem.

What is particularly impressive is how much more cost effective comprehensive litter abatement programs are than mere reliance on a deposit scheme.

Source: Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, Inc., 2004