According to Keep America Beautiful’s (KAB) largest-ever litter study, over 51 billion pieces of trash end up on U.S. roadways each year. While overall findings determined that litter has decreased over the past few decades, it also concluded that it is still nothing to be discounted in terms of the toll it can take.
“Litter is still out there,” says Steven Stein, Principal at Environmental Resources Planning LLC and co-author of KAB’s survey. “On average, there’s one piece per foot for all U.S. roadways.”
Litter: Still a Problem
Littering still has a big impact on communities and environments. Some litter bugs might be surprised to find out just how far-reaching their bad habit really is. Litter can be surprisingly mobile, thanks largely to weather and waterways.
Regardless of its mode of transportation – animals, wind, rain, human error – once litter finds a sewer drain, storm drain or smaller waterway it can travel for many miles to eventually be deposited on beaches or in larger bodies of water.
“The concern about trash and waterways is appropriate,” says Stein. “We have to somehow make a connection. Sometimes we don’t realize that what we’re trashing are our own homes and communities.”
Apart from being unsightly, this traveling trash can pose serious threats to the wildlife and the ecosystems of our oceans and waterways. Animals often accidentally consume litter in their environment mistaking it for food and in other circumstances end up getting tangled or trapped in it. Even without direct contact, litter can be harmful, as some materials become contaminants as they degrade over time.
The human impact of the litter problem is just as real. Litter affects human health, communities and economies by contaminating water supplies and hurting the food chain, lowering property values and costing billions (that’s billions with a B!) in cleanup efforts just in the U.S. – not to mention worldwide. Keep America Beautiful estimates that the U.S. spends at least $11.5 billion annually on litter clean up and prevention.
While local, national and global cleanup efforts are always underway to help restore the environment, some organizations are putting the focus on prevention in hopes of reducing the problem in the first place.
Homepage photo: Litter Sign, Shutterstock