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What item makes up most of the litter in America?
Karen Bell
Keep Liberty Beautiful Executive Director Karen Bell.

As I was driving down Highway 196, I saw a man with a litter grabber picking up trash. He had a bike nearby with bags of trash tied in a basket. As I passed him I wondered who he was and what kind of items was he picking up? I wish I could have stopped, but I was in the fast lane, going to a meeting, and could not move over fast enough. Now, every day I drive down Highway 196 (with a T-shirt on my back seat for him) looking for him but have not seen him since. I still wonder what kind of items he was collecting and why he was doing it.  

Keep America Beautiful (KAB) is a non-profit organization dedicated to community improvement through litter prevention, waste reduction, recycling, and beautification. KAB was founded in 1953 and has grown into the nation’s leading community involvement organization, with more than 1,200 local affiliates and participating organizations. In 2008 and 2009, KAB conducted studies with support from Philip Morris USA, an Altria Company. These studies focused on two broad topics: litter and littering behavior. 

Litter is any piece of misplaced solid waste, and it can range in size from tiny bits of paper to large appliances and automobiles. Across the country, there are about 3.8 million miles of roadway, maintained by national, state, and county. By the end of the studies the results indicated that there were 51.2 billion pieces of litter on roadways nationwide. The most frequently counted littered items were cigarette butts, paper and plastic.     

The studies also determine that 53 percent of the litter on the roadways came from motorists, 23 percent from pedestrians, 16 percent from improperly covered loads, 2 percent from debris from the vehicles themselves, and 1 percent from spillage from receptacles in the surrounding vicinity.  

There are several things we can do in our community to promote litter prevention: 

1.  Commit to picking up one piece of litter every day.  

2.  Set an example by NOT littering. Carry a litter bag in your car and hang on to litter until you find a garbage receptacle. Parents: set an example for your children. Children: set an example for your parents.

3.  Share with others, your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, the proper way to dispose of litter. 

4.  Make sure your trash cans have good-fitting lids so litter cannot fall or blow out. If you transport garbage or recyclable items to area solid waste convenience centers for disposal, make sure that your bags are tied off and that bags and containers are secured in your vehicle. 

5.  Ask your neighbors to join you in cleaning up your street or neighborhood. ‘Adopting’ that area can help reduce the amount of litter because people do litter less in areas that are maintained. 

6.  Encourage groups like civic clubs, youth groups, sports teams, and church groups that you and your family members support to become involved in cleanup and recycling projects. Have your group ‘adopt a spot’ and maintain it on a regular basis.

7.  Look for ways to beautify your neighborhood and community. Neighborhoods that are maintained and attractive are littered less and research shows that they are usually safer, too.

8.  In your workplace make sure that there are an adequate number of appropriately placed containers for garbage disposal. Make sure that designated smoking areas have receptacles for cigarette butts, too.  Cigarette butts can take from two to twenty years to decompose. They are also a disgusting litter problem.

9.  At community and sports events, look for containers to dispose of snack wrappers and drink containers. Don’t just throw them on the ground.  

Picking up litter makes a powerful statement!  Help us fight litter during Great American Cleanup 2019. To register your group or neighborhood for a cleanup, go online:, Search: or contact Keep Liberty Beautiful at 912-880-4888 or email Make a difference where you live, work and play.  

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