Some Things Are Just Made to Be Littered

Some Things Are Just Made to Be Littered

Peter B. Crabb (Department of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University Hazleton, Hazleton, PA, USA) and Matthew P. Lessack (Pennsylvania State University Hazleton, Hazleton, PA, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/ijsesd.2014070104
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Previous research has identified a number of situational factors that can contribute to littering in various settings. One key factor that has been largely overlooked is the products that people litter. A descriptive survey of roadside litter was conducted with the goals of identifying the most-littered products and their industry sources. A sample of litter was collected from roads in rural, suburban, and urban areas in Pennsylvania. Of 2,611 littered objects, most (84.6%) litter was waste from one-use smoking, beverage, food, and packaging products. The findings support the view that some products are differentially associated with littering behavior and are thus highly “litterable,” leading to recommendations for reducing litter by targeting those products for change.
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1. Introduction

One of the unfortunate side-effects of the abundance enjoyed by modern technological society is the growing accumulation of solid waste (Royte, 2005). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2011) reported that 243 million tons of solid waste were generated in the U.S. in 2009. Much of that waste is improperly deposited along public roads as litter. One estimate is that more than 51 billion pieces of litter accumulate on U.S. roadways each year (Keep America Beautiful, 2009) at a cost to taxpayers of $500 million per year (Forbes, 2009). Humans have probably always generated litter throughout history, but modern litter is particularly insidious because it tends to be composed of materials that do not degrade quickly and therefore creates persistent eyesores and safety hazards. Litter composed of plastics can leach toxic chemicals into water and soil and can make its way downstream where it can harm marine ecosystems (Moore, 2008).

Like other environmental problems arising from human behavior, littering clearly is best understood as context-embedded and facilitated by multiple factors (Gardner and Stern, 1996; Mysterud and Penn, 2007; Stokols, 1987). Previous research has identified a number of situational factors that can contribute to people’s motivation to litter in various settings. The absence of trash receptacles has been found to be related to increased littering (Baltes and Hayward, 1976). The presence of litter in public spaces makes people more likely to litter (Cialdini, Reno, and Kallgren, 1990; Geller, Witmer, and Tuso, 1977; Krauss, Freedman, and Whitcup, 1978; Reiter and Samuel, 1980; Reno, Cialdini, and Kallgren, 1993). The absence of anti-littering prompts or cues, such as signs or people picking up litter, has also been found to facilitate littering (Baltes and Hayward, 1976; Burgess, Clark, and Hendee, 1971; Durden, Reeder, and Hecht, 1985; Geller, Witmer, and Orebaugh, 1976; Hansmann and Scholz, 2003; Kraus, Freedman, and Whitcup, 1978), as has the presence of pro-littering cues (Cialdini, Reno, and Kallgren, 1990; deKort, McCazlley, and Midden, 2008; Kallgren, Reno, and Cialdini, 2000; Reich and Robertson, 1979; Reiter and Samuel, 1980; Reno, Cialdini, and Kallgren, 1993). The absence of community recycling programs has also been shown to be correlated with increased littering (Reams, Geaghan, and Gendron, 1996).

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