Litter Prevention


Why do People Litter?

Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful believes that people tend to litter because they feel no sense of personal ownership. In addition, even though areas such as parks and beaches are public property, people often believe that someone else parks maintenance or highway worker will take responsibility to pick up litter that has accumulated over time. Because any and all items used in human activity have the potential of being littered, the scale of this issue is significant.

Because Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful believes litter is often a starting point for other community blight, and that everyone shares a personal responsibility to help prevent litter in their community, we encourage solutions that involve public education and volunteer action. Knowing more about the causes of litter and where it comes from is a good place to start in addressing litter prevention. One person, one business, one organization can positively affect the behavior of others in their community.

Who is Littering?

There is no such thing as a single “littering type.” People of all ages and social backgrounds have been observed littering — men and women, children, and all ages in between are likely to litter.

Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful uses a variety of traditional and community education programs to teach responsible behavior and proper disposal of trash and waste. Changing behaviors and societal norms begin with each of us … and it beings with you.

Where do People Litter?

Areas most likely to be littered fall into four categories: special event venues, roadways and highways, high traffic and everyday locations, and what is referred to as “Transition Points.”

Special event venues such as fairs, concerts, carnivals and other special events attract a large number of people who will generate waste. The larger the event, the more waste it typically creates. Simple steps can help reduce event waste and litter:

  • Involve event planners and vendors in having a “waste wise/litter free” event.
  • Post signs with antilittering messages for all attendees.
  • Plan ahead to assure that the number of waste and recycling receptacles matches the potential volume of waste.
  • Place volunteers near receptacles to guide participants to proper waste disposal.

Roadways and highways as well as highway on/off ramps and roadway median strips have increasingly become the target of litterers. While Adopt-a-Highway/Roadway/Spot programs exist around our country, drivers and car passengers are littering these spots every day. Recent censuses report that people spent more and more hours in the car every day. People are snacking, smoking and eating meals while traveling by car.

Businesses like food vendors, convenience store owners, auto dealerships, and auto rental agencies need to help their customers do the right thing, to be responsible for the proper disposal of trash and waste.

High traffic and everyday locations are fast food businesses and deli’s, convenience stores, picnic grounds, park benches and other high pedestrian traffic areas. Every community has businesses selling consumable products that generate packaging waste.

Every community has benches in parks as well as seating at bus stops and picnic areas where people will congregate. These spots need properly maintained ash/trash receptacles nearby that are easily identified. The receptacles need to be maintained and serviced regularly.

Transition points are the places where someone stops eating, drinking or smoking before they proceed. A transition point may be the entrance to a public building, an office, a retail establishment, or a bus stop. Individuals may drop items and create litter before they move into a building or onto a bus.

At transition points, strategically placed, highly visible receptacles will be most successful in capturing discarded papers, cans, and cigarette butts. Identifying transition points in communities, equipping them with ash or trash receptacles, and regularly and properly maintaining the receptacles has been proven to reduce litter and improve a community’s appearance.


Littering is an individual behavioral problem or a business problem that can become a problem for your community.

Changing a societal norm like littering begins with each of us. Each person must accept responsibility for their actions and influence the actions of others around them at home, at school, in your place of business, and in the community at large. By modeling proper trash and waste disposal, you will cause others to consider changing their behaviors and embodying appropriate actions, too.

Here are some examples of what you — and others — can do to help prevent litter in your community.

Every Person:

  • Set an example for others, especially co-workers, friends and children by using trash receptacles and not littering.
  • Always have available a litter bag and portable ashtray in your car.
  • If you are a smoker, carry and use a portable or pocket ashtray


  • Make sure your trashcans have lids that can be securely fastened or use bungee cords to hold them in place.
  • Secure all bags and use twine to secure loose trash for curbside trash collection.
  • Tie paper into bundles before placing into curbside recycling bins.


  • Identify “Transition Points” in your community. Place ash and trash receptacles at these points and commit to proper maintenance of the receptacles.
  • Encourage building owners and business managers to place ash receptacles at points outdoors where their employees and/or customers smoke.
  • Distribute portable or pocket ashtrays and litter bags throughout your community, and educate citizens about individual responsibility for proper waste disposal.
  • Coordinate “adopt-a-spot” programs with local community organizations, youth groups and school groups to augment the regular maintenance of public places by your employees.


  • Assure easy access to dumpsters by employees and contractors. Check dumpsters daily to see that top and side doors are closed. This prevents scavengers from spreading trash on the ground.
  • Cover all open loads on trucks leaving your business. Encourage vendors and contractors to do the same.
  • Provide ash and trash receptacles at entrances, exits, loading docks, picnic areas as well as in packing lots and along walkways of your business. Remember, these should be placed where the people generally gather.
  • Educate your employees about the importance of individual responsibility for a clean and safe working environment.

Event Organizers:

  • Make your festival, fair or any outdoor community events “waste-wise and litter free” by involving all participants in the planning.
  • Give out litter bags and portable or pocket ashtrays at the entrances of your event and make sure everyone knows that your event is a “waste-wise and litter free” event.
  • Place large trash receptacles and recycling receptacles near food venues and eating areas. Remember, a large event with a large number of attendees should equal large, well-marked receptacles.
  • If you place event volunteers nearby to help attendees find the receptacles as they need them, you will reduce clean-up while educating people about recycling and proper waste disposal.


  • Before you light up, identify where you will dispose of your cigarette waste when you finish smoking. Use ash and ash/trash receptacles.
  • Carry a pocket ashtray all the time or have a portable ashtray with you as you leave your home, office or car.
  • Encourage fellow smokers to be responsible for their cigarette litter, too.

Pet Owners:

  • Pick up after your dog as you walk through your neighborhood. Use newspaper delivery bags, “scoopers” or other easy-to-use methods to clean up after your pet.
  • Keeping your pet on a leash assures that it doesn’t foul neighbors’ yards or public spaces in your neighborhood.
  • Take responsibility for your pet and its actions.

The Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful Litter Index

Looking at litter is the place to begin the first step in the litter prevention education process.

The Litter Index, used locally by Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful, is a credible and simple tool that allows quick and reliable visual assessment of the types of litter present in a community. The data obtained through the Litter Index will help to determine the types of community improvement programs needed to address current conditions and achieve long-term sustainable results.

The Litter Index is designed to measure progress over time. It helps identify what is effective-and what isn’t-in positively changing littering attitudes and behaviors and related community improvement issues. Consistent use of the Litter Index on an annual basis can help track overall progress in reducing litter, and can quantitatively express success in community improvement.

Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful realizes that no two communities are exactly alike, and no single improvement plan will address all the needs of every community. The Litter Index has been designed to be flexible and allow for individual judgment in making choices appropriate for local circumstances.

Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful volunteers perform the Litter Index on the same local areas each year in order to assess changing conditions in the communities we serve.