How to Put a Stop to Littering

To eliminate litter, Keep America Beautiful's (KAB) research shows we have to address both littering behavior and change the environment. According to KAB’s 2009 National Visible Litter Survey and Litter Cost Study:

  • About 85% of littering is the result of individual attitudes. Changing individual behavior is key to preventing litter.
  • Nearly one in five, or 17%, of all disposals observed in public spaces were littering. The remainder (83%) was properly discarded in a trash or recycling receptacle.
  • A strong contributor to littering is the prevalence of existing litter.  About 15% of littering is affected by the environment. Litter on the ground begets more litter. 

Attitude Change Process

For over 30 years, KAB has successfully pursued a behavioral approach to reduce littering and increase community greening and recycling. The five-step KAB Attitude Change System, developed through research and field-testing, was designed for KAB with Dr. Robert F. Allen of the Human Resources Institute. Dr. Allen and his team of behavioral scientists identified the need to change behavior as the only effective way to achieve lasting, sustainable improvement in community quality of life. KAB teaches this five-step attitude change process as a primary tool for the development and implementation of culture changing programs and projects.

  • Get the Facts
  • Involve the People
  • Develop a Plan
  • Focus on Results
  • Provide Positive Reinforcement

KAB's "Pressure Points" for Behavior Change

Traditional approaches to litter, most particularly clean-up projects, work only to remove the litter and do little to prevent its recurrence.  KAB attempts to deal with the root cause of the problem—littering behavior.  Changing attitudes and influencing behavior are brought about most effectively using a combination of methods: 

  • Education – Education and awareness are bedrock tools of behavior change.  Think broadly in your approach.  Consider tie-ins with public education conducted through youth programs, civic clubs, Chambers of Commerce, businesses, and government agencies.
  • Ordinances – Changing public policy through codes, laws, or ordinances is one way to change behaviors around quality of life and environmental issues. 
  • Enforcement – Consistent and effective enforcement of existing codes, laws, and ordinances helps change behavior and reinforce the commitment to a cleaner, greener community.  Work closely with local law enforcement, and be sure citizens are aware of the laws. 
  • Tools and Resources – This can include such tangible things as a litter pick up tools, sanitation collection vehicles, graffiti removal equipment, litter or ash receptacles, recycling bins, or a pocket ashtray.  It also includes strategies that encourage individuals to make different long-term choices, blending knowledge from social marketing with behavior change tools.