Causes, Problems and Possible Solutions To Stop Littering

Litter is any kind of trash thrown in small amounts, especially in places where it doesn’t belong. With time, it heaps up. The practice is unlawful because it costs municipalities millions of dollars annually in cleanup costs. It also portrays a bad picture of an area. The most frequent littered stuff includes fast food packaging, cigarette butts, used drink bottles, chewing gum wrappers, broken electrical equipment parts, toys, broken glass, food scraps or green wastes.

Even practices such as leaving items overflowing beside a dust bin, deliberate throwing of items from vehicles, and abandoning items or wrappers by the roadside qualifies as littering. Littering is a dangerous activity and should not be taken lightly because it impacts the environment in multiple ways. 

Littering is a crime, but they are not enforcing the law. We need to educate the youths on why littering is bad and the effect litter has on neighbourhoods.

~ Johnnise Downs

In order to get a better understanding of littering, here is a list of its causes, problems and possible solutions.

Various Causes of Littering

1. Presence of Litter in an Area

Research has proven a correlation between the presence of litter in a given area and the intentional throwing of litter at that particular spot.

The research points out that when someone sees litter already accumulated somewhere, it gives him the impression it’s the right place to discard items. In most cases, it’s either accidental or intentional.

2. Construction Projects

Some percentage of litter also comes from construction projects. The worker’s lunchtime waste, together with the uncontrolled generation of building waste, is the culprit of litter produced from construction projects.

Pieces of wood, metals, plastics, concrete debris, cardboard, and paper are some of the common waste materials generated.

3. Laziness and Carelessness

Laziness and carelessness have bred a culture of habitual littering. Typically, people have become too lazy and unwilling to throw away trash appropriately.

It is common to see people discard trash out of their kitchen windows or balconies, probably because they are too lazy to put it in the rightful places. Carelessness has also made people just throw rubbish anywhere without even thinking about it.

4. The Belief That There is no Consequence For Littering

Since people perceive there is no consequence for their action when they throw items anyhow and anywhere, it has created the “I don’t care attitude.”

The act of pedestrians getting rid of chewing gum wrappers and other wastes on the roadways and streets or motorists throwing garbage from their cars clearly reveals this kind of attitude. The majority of people believe there are others who will pick or clean it up.

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5. Lack of Trash Receptacles

Many passengers, pedestrians and people living in urban areas have blamed rampant littering on the lack of public trash cans. Some places have them, but they are not enough, while some of the existing ones are sometimes poorly managed, which leads to overloading of the containers. Besides, animal scavengers and blowing wind can dislodge the items and scatter them around.

6. Improper Environmental Education

Many people do not know that their various acts of littering negatively impact the environment. As a result, people continue to throw litter anywhere without thinking of their environmental consequences.

Smokers, for example, are unaware of how the aimless throwing of cigarette butt affects the environment. The case is similar for passengers, pedestrians and people who aimlessly throw wrappers or other used items in remote or public areas.

7. Low Fines

The fines for littering in many countries are quite low, or even there is no provision for fines at all. Since people do not expect to get fined, they usually stick to their littering behavior.

For example, it is quite common that people just throw their cigarette butts and do not care about this behavior as they are never fined at all.

8. Pack Behavior

As per psychology, it is in human nature to get affected by the people we spend time with, even unconsciously.

Thus, if we spend time with people who are stubborn, unwilling to change their behavior, or immature or lack awareness of their actions that adversely affect the environment or selfish to care environment and litter quite frequently, we are also more likely to start littering.

Serious Problems of Littering

1. Can Cause Physical Harm or Injury to People

Litter can contain objects that can harm or cause physical injury to people or animals, namely needles, blades or broken glass. Throwing cigarette butts in the forest can also spark fires and destroy nearby properties and homes or even kill those who are trapped in the fire.

2. It Can Facilitate the Spread of Disease

Littering can encourage the spread of pest species and diseases. The trash can provide the breeding ground for diseases and pass it through animals that eat them. If the trash collects water, it may also harbor mosquitoes that are known to spread the deadly malaria disease in tropical regions.

Toxic chemicals and disease, causing microorganisms in the trash, may also contaminate water systems and spread water-borne diseases, which can negatively affect the health of both animals and humans if unclean or untreated water is consumed.

3. Pollutes the Environment

Litter adversely affects the environment. Be it littering along the road, on the streets or by the litter bins, toxic materials or chemicals in the litter can be blown or washed into rivers, forest lands, oceans, lakes and creeks and eventually pollutes the waterways, land, forest areas, soils or aquatic environments.

Cigarette butts, for instance, contain toxic substances like arsenic, which can contaminate both soil and water. The great pacific garbage patch is another example, which is connected to marine plastic pollution. Litter can also reduce air quality due to the smell and toxic/chemical vapor emanating from the trash.

4. High Cleanup Costs

Millions of dollars are spent by municipalities annually in cleanup efforts to reduce littering. This makes littering a huge problem because the money that would otherwise be used in progressive development is partly directed to waste management programs.

Litter can also block stormwater drainage systems and cause urban flooding, which requires money for intervention and restoration.

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5. It Affects and Can Kill Wildlife

Plastic litter has often been mistaken for food by both land and marine wildlife, such as herbivores, sea birds, turtles, and fish. When consumed by the animals, they reduce stomach capacity since they can’t be digested. In the long-term, it affects the animals’ eating habits, eventually killing the animal.

Several marine wildlife, including birds, whales, dolphins and turtles have been found dead with plastics and cigarettes in their stomachs. Some of the materials may also be poisonous or contain sharp objects, thereby damaging the animal’s vital organs or injuring them.

6. Affects Aesthetic Value and Local Tourism

Littered places just look gross and depreciate the aesthetic value of the surrounding environments. Similarly, it affects local tourism as it makes city areas and roadside look disgusting.

The public and tourists also tend to avoid areas that are littered because of health issues and unattractiveness. It also causes visual pollution and affects people’s quality of life.

Source: Canva

7. Increased Probability of Fires

People often underestimate the underlying dangers from their behavior that littering may also contribute to fires. They just throw away their cigarettes wherever they stand and pose a risk to spark wildfires in areas that are at high risk for wildfires because of dry woods.

They hardly believe that a cigarette could be enough to start a fire. Therefore, littering can increase the probability of wildfires.

8. Breeding Ground for Insects

Litter can serve as a breeding ground for insects or pests. If it is organic litter, it can be quite harmful as insects and other pests prefer to breed on organic substances. Littering can also lead to an increase in the population of undesirable insects.

9. Soil Pollution

Soil pollution is among the adverse effects of littering. Litter consists of several materials like glass, metal, organic stuff and can also contain hazardous materials. 

One example is batteries. As batteries contain many harmful substances, if they are disposed of improperly into the litter, they may pollute the soil in a severe way. The soil is likely to store the harmful substances, which in turn contaminate groundwater since the harmful substances are washed through the soil during rainfall.

10. Water Pollution

Littering can contribute to water pollution in several ways. When people dispose of their garbage directly in the water, rivers and lakes can be polluted.

Additionally, water pollution includes the contamination of groundwater when garbage is washed into our groundwater due to natural rainfalls. This garbage is likely to end up in our oceans eventually.

11. Air Pollution

People often burn litter to get rid of it. However, in the combustion process, the harmful substances contained in the litter mix with the air and lead to air pollution.

This problem becomes severe, especially when it comes to the burning of plastic, which leads to the emission of many toxic gases and particulate matter that can negatively affect the human respiratory system.

Possible Solutions to Littering To Save Our Environment

1. Litter Laws

Putting in place strict litter laws ensures no litter is discarded, thrown or dropped onto private and public areas. Such laws work towards prohibiting illegal dumping and littering. The law must also clearly stipulate that dumping is a serious offense, punishable by serving a jail term and fines. 

Several local authorities globally have considerably addressed the littering problem by instituting legislation punishing perpetrators with fines, imprisonment, and community service.

2. More Controlling Instances

Littering is mostly not controlled and fined in an appropriate manner because there is a lack of controlling instances or people who can control littering.

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People now know that they can easily get away with littering, and nobody stands ready to fine them. However, they can be stopped from littering by increasing the number of people engaged in controlling and fining littering.

3. Anti-litter Campaigns

Community programs and groups should be created with friends and neighbors for neighborhood cleanup with the sole aim of running anti-litter campaigns to raise awareness. “Keep the environment tidy” programs and community cleanup events can be a lot of fun and are sufficiently valuable in spreading the message.

The campaigns can also be incorporated in bulletin boards, social media platforms, and newsletters to spread the message widely.

Campaigns speak a lot and provide relevant knowledge about the environmental costs of littering, eventually addressing some of the major problems. In supporting this initiative, more than half of smokers say that if they are aware of how their behavior impacts the environment, they will strive to correct it.

4. Stop Littering Signs

Putting up signs is a very creative way of putting a stop to littering. The signs should be placed in high littered areas and those that are prone to littering, such as the streets near public transport stations.

Routes used on a daily basis by pedestrians and commuters also deserve “stop littering signs” to constantly remind people that littering is a bad thing and should thus be avoided.

5. Putting up Litter Bins

Proper measures must be taken by the relevant local authorities to ensure more garbage bins are installed in various areas for effective garbage disposal.

Putting up enough garbage bins in town centers, walking routes, public areas, and near bus stops as well as fast-food restaurants offer convenience in the disposal and collection of litter. 

Litter bins also help in easing up the recycling and reuse initiatives as the local authorities and garbage collectors are given enough time to sort the waste. Moreover, to avoid additional problems due to overfilling, the bins must be emptied regularly.

6. Education

Education is crucial to mitigate the littering issue. People need to know how their actions in their daily life affect the environment. We also have to make people understand that it is quite easy to avoid littering and thus contribute to protecting the environment.

7. Involve Children and Youth

This education should start in schools as children and youth play a crucial role in shaping a nation and making it clean and beautiful. Children are good learners, and they adjust their behavior easily than most adults.

Moreover, children may convince their parents to avoid littering. Additionally, when the children grow up being aware of the littering problem, they may be motivated to take measures to mitigate it.

8. Recycling of Waste

The waste of resources can be prevented by recycling, and it is possible to reuse many things thrown in the garbage. Both the local community and the overall environment can benefit from recycling materials instead of littering.

It saves natural resources, landfill space, energy, clean air and water and conserves the environment

9. Carry a Litter Bag

Keep a litter bag in your car and also along with you whenever you are out and throw your trash in your bag until you find a garbage receptacle. This action will not only keep your car clean and organized but also keep the streets clean.

Littering Infographic


Littering Waste

Why Litter is a Problem?

How to report Littering?

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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.