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The Cost of Litter

A study by Keep America Beautiful in 2020 found almost 50 million pieces of litter along America’s roadways and waterways. I think it’s safe to say litter is a big problem. But it’s not just an eyesore, littering comes at a cost. Yep, it costs us money when someone else litters. When it comes to litter, there’s direct and indirect costs. Direct costs would be ones you are paying for the direct clean-up of litter. Indirect costs are ones that aren’t directly paid to the clean-up of litter, but come from the effects of litter. Direct Monetary Costs According to the Keep America Beautiful organization, litter clean-ups cost the United States alone an estimated $11.5 billion each year. Looking deeper, we find that states, cities, and counties combined pay $1.3 billion on litter clean-ups. And where does that money come from, tax payer dollars. And if you’re too young to work, that means the money is coming from the adults in your life…. and one day, from you! Did you know that even educational establishments spend about $241 million a year on litter clean up? Imagine what they could do with that kind of money if they didn’t have to clean up trash?! Indirect Monetary Costs When a neighborhood is littered, the value of houses can go down. It’s estimated that property values decrease by a little over 7%. That means when a homeowner goes to sell their property, they likely won’t make as much money for it. Furthermore, 36% of business development people say that litter does impact their decision on where to locate their company. So if there is a lot of litter in your community, businesses are less likely to want to open up shop there. Environmental Costs Beyond the money we lose because of litter there is something far more important to consider- the impact of litter on the environment. Litter affects animal and human habitats negatively. It not only looks bad; it also is dangerous. Animals can eat trash or get stuck in it, causing them to get sick or die. It’s estimated that at least 100,000 animals (mammals and birds) die each year because of our plastic litter. And that doesn’t account for the litter that is not plastic. The chemicals leaching out of plastics and other materials can contaminate our soil and waterways making animals and people sick. Plus researchers have found that more than 40% of the world’s litter is burned with no filtering of the chemical smoke that comes from it. This releases toxic emissions into the air we breathe. And while not all litter is plastic (some is paper-based, rubber, or other materials) a lot of it is plastic. And don’t forget that to produce plastic in the first place means we are using and burning more fossil fuels! You know, the stuff that is causing climate change. To get some perspective - Americans toss 100 billion plastic bags away ever year. That’s the same as throwing away 12 million gallons of oil, oil that pollutes our world. How Can I Help? -Refuse single-use products wherever you can. If you’re getting takeout, ask for no napkins, plasticware, or straws. If you are grocery shopping, don’t use plastic bags, bring your own. -Reduce what you buy, especially plastics. Is it a want or a need? If it’s a want, think about what will happen to the product after you’re done with it. Do you really have to have it? Maybe it's an item you could borrow or buy second-hand. -Reuse what you have. Reuse whatever you can or think of a creative way you can repurpose the item! -Recycle properly. Make sure you know what your local recycling program will take and if it needs to be washed, dried, or stored a certain way. Also remember, plastics can only be recycled one, sometimes two times before they are too degraded to recycle again. So ye, recycle plastics but avoid plastics to begin with, if you can! -Secure your trash and recycling. A lot of litter comes from our bins falling over or overflowing. -Get out and do a cleanup. Get out into your community, local parks, hiking trails, beach, or wherever and pick up litter with your family and friends! Every single item is important. Check out our handy clean-up page to get ready.



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