Where do People Litter, and what Is Littered?

Keep America Beautiful’s (KAB) 2009 National Visible Litter Survey and Litter Cost Study identified individual behavior as the primary contributor to litter in all locations.  Individuals are littering on roads and highways and in retail, recreational, and residential locations:

  • Roadway Litter - Tobacco products, mostly cigarette butts, are the most littered item on U.S. roadways (38%).  This is followed by paper (22%) and plastic (19%).  Most of the litter on roads and highways is caused by people.  Research shows that littering along roadways is generated by the following individual actions: 
    • Motorists (52%)
    • Pedestrians (22.8%)
    • Improperly covered truck or cargo loads, including collection vehicles (16.4%)
    • Improperly secured containers, dumpsters, trash cans or residential waste or recycling bins (1.5%)
  • Non-Roadway Litter – Off the roads and highways, litter originates from many sources, but litter primarily collects at “transition points”. 
  • Transition points are entrances to businesses, transportation, and other places where items must be discarded before entering.  Confection (candy, chocolate, gum, etc.) ranks at the top (53.7%) of what is littered at transition points; this is followed by cigarette butts at 29.8%.

Other locations that attract litter—starting from where most non-roadway litter occurs to least—include:

  • Storm drains - Located primarily in gutters and designed to drain excess rain from paved streets, parking lots, etc. storm drains tend to attract cigarette butts, confection, and other litter.
  • Loading docks - Areas behind retail and wholesale business where products are loaded/unloaded from trucks and trailers can become littered with cigarette butts, confection, and paper.
  • Recreational Areas - Parks, beaches, courts, and open areas where people congregate for leisure activities create lots of opportunities for littering.
  • Construction sites - Active residential or commercial construction are a trap for cigarette butts, paper, and plastic.
  • Retail – High-traffic locations such as shopping centers, strip malls, and convenience stores can generate packaging litter, and cigarette butts and confection on the ground.