Keep America Beautiful: Litter Research

Litter Remains a Pervasive Problem

In December 2009, Keep America Beautiful Inc. (KAB) released its National Visible Litter Survey and Litter Cost Study, prepared by MidAtlantic Solid Waste Consultants. Using the results of this study, KAB developed fact sheets explaining the scope and impact of litter on American life. In the coming days, Hampton Clean City Commission will release a summary of the fact sheets along with relevant information from Hampton. The good news, as presented by the study, is that visible litter on our roadways has decreased approximately 61% in the past 40 years. The bad news is that we still have a litter problem.


The 2009 study found that more than 51 billion pieces of litter are released on American roadways each year - 6,729 items per mile of roadway annually, 91% of it less than 4 inches in size. The largest category of all litter (38%), regardless of size, is that of tobacco products, which included packaging as well as cigarette ends.

From July 2008 to June 2009, Hampton Clean City Commission (HCCC) volunteers picked up 230,565 cigarette ends from Hampton roadways and public areas. On several heavily traveled roadways, volunteers simply reported "too many to count" and picked up as many as they could. HCCC volunteers have been picking up and counting cigarette ends since 2000. In approximately 10 years, they have reported picking up nearly a quarter of a million cigarette ends. Volunteer Rolland Schattschneider is the leader in the movement. He began counting cigarette ends at Barron Elementary School in 2000 and is still counting them.

Why is this a problem? Clean Virginia Waterways conducted a study which showed that one cigarette end killed 80% of the daphnia (water fleas) in 2 gallons of water. The 230,000+ cigarette ends picked up by HCCC volunteers in 2009 could have contaminated over 460,000 gallons of water in our creeks and rivers.

Categories of Litter

Other large categories of littered material on our nation’s roadways were paper (21.9%) and plastic (19.3%).

Fast food, snack, tobacco, and other packaging dominated the types of litter that were larger than 4 inches in size - they were 46% of the total.

Most roadway litter came from motorists (52%), pedestrians (22.8%), and improperly covered vehicles (16%). Most non-roadway litter was found at transition points such as entrances to businesses and bus stops.

The researchers estimated that litter costs the United States more than $11 billion to clean up annually. Researchers indicated during presentations about the study that the cost of litter cleanup is most likely an underestimation, since the business portion is estimated to be more than $9 billion, and it is probable that state and local governments spend more than $2 billion annually to clean up litter. At a 2001 meeting of the Commission on the Future of Virginia’s Environment, the Department of Transportation reported spending $7 million on roadway cleanup by staff and contractors.

Volunteer Work

Going back to the work of HCCC volunteers last year, they reported removing 6,466 bags of trash (average bag size 40 gallons). That translated into approximately 194,000 pounds / 97 tons of litter removed from Hampton public areas. The nearly 10,000 hours of cleanup time they contributed saved Hampton approximately $200,000 in staff time and the equivalent of five full-time employees for the year.

The KAB study also showed that homeowners, realtors and property appraisers all indicated that the presence of litter in a community reduces property values by about 7%.

How You Can Help

May is the Hampton Clean City Commission’s Litter Awareness Month. Our Adopt-A-Spot and other cleanup volunteers are going all out to Keep Hampton Beautiful. Won’t you help? Please spread the word that littering behavior is just plain wrong and it hurts our community! And if you can, pick up some litter. The HCCC Litter Awareness Committee has set a goal of 100 cleanups during the month of May.

If you need equipment (litter sticks, safety vests, work gloves and trash bags) to clean up, let us know, email us or call (757) 727-1130.

To report a cleanup you did without our equipment to help us achieve our goal, let us know, email us or call (757) 727-1130.

For More Information

For more information about Keep America Beautiful and its programs and activities, visit their website and download the executive summary of the study. Thanks to Philip Morris USA, an Altria Company for funding the research, and thanks to Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company Foundation for funding the creation of the fact sheets that resulted. Our media contact is Debbie Blanton, Hampton Clean City Commission Coordinator.