On Earth Day, 1971, a Public Service Announcement featuring Native American actor Chief Iron Eyes Cody and the tagline line, “People Start Pollution. People can stop it.” aired for the first time. Iron Eyes Cody became synonymous with environmental concern and achieved lasting fame as, “The Crying Indian.” (Photo courtesy of planet1051.com)
On Earth Day, 1971, a Public Service Announcement featuring Native American actor Chief Iron Eyes Cody and the tagline line, “People Start Pollution. People can stop it.” aired for the first time. Iron Eyes Cody became synonymous with environmental concern and achieved lasting fame as, “The Crying Indian.” (Photo courtesy of planet1051.com)

COLUMBUS — On a per capita basis, it seems as if Americans are doing far less littering than 40 or 50 years ago. At that time, an open car window was often looked at as a kind of trash dispenser. Now, a some still regard it as such, but it seems the majority stow their trash while in a car and save it for the next convenient trash receptacle.

Meanwhile, people on the front lines of the litter war are struggling to come up with messages that work. Joel Hunt, a public information officer with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), admits that despite public relations campaigns, littering in Ohio remains at an all-time high.

“More than 400,000 bags of litter being picked up along Ohio’s roadways each year,” Hunt said. “In 2013, ODOT picked up 371,500 bags of litter.”

Keeping America Beautiful’s (KAB) National Visible Litter Survey and Litter Cost Study shows that over 51 billion pieces of litter land on U.S. roadways each year. Most of it, 46.6 billion pieces, is less than four inches in size and equates to 6,729 items per mile.



According to ODOT, litter costs the state nearly $4 million to pickup and requires pulling skilled workers off highway repairs to clean other people’s trash costing Ohio residents money that could be used to install 160 culverts, pave a 28-mile, two-lane road, or purchase 27 new snowplow trucks.

Ohio relies on its 1,400 Adopt-A-Highway groups to help with litter pickup and there are at least one group in each of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Each Adopt-A-Highway group volunteers to clean up a two-mile section, or interchange, and pick up litter and debris a minimum of four times a year for two years. On average, Adopt-A-Volunteers pick up 25,000 bags of trash saving ODOT $280,000.

Some eye opening littering statistics:
• 75 percent of people admit to littering in the past 5 years;
• 8 million gallons of litter is thrown from car windows every day;
• 50 percent of all littered items are cigarette butts and one in three cigarettes ends up as litter;
• 9 billion tons of litter is dumped into the ocean every year;
• $11.5 billion spent annually spent to clean up litter;
• litter carries germs that are quickly and easily spread to humans through rodents, and;
• every year, millions of fish, birds and animals are killed from consuming or getting tangled up in litter with the biggest culprits being plastic bags and plastic six pack rings.

The most common objects used in littering includes; fast food waste, at 33 percent; paper, 29 percent; aluminum, 28 percent; glass 6 percent; plastic 2 percent; and other at 2 percent.

KAB has launched a new litter prevention campaign, “Littering Is Wrong Too,” that utilizes social media, events and viral marketing to engage young adults and increase awareness of the problem of litter.

The new campaign is targeted at young adults ages 18-34 — which KAB research pinpointed as most likely to litter as well as be motivated by a public education campaign — and calls attention to the inappropriate act of littering. It links littering with other undeniable—and often humorous—wrongdoings, such as eating “gas station sushi,” “texting during surgery,” or giving a kid “sugar at bedtime.”

President and chief executive officer of Keep America Beautiful Inc. Matt McKenna said the campaign is not only attention-getting, it demands interaction and involvement.

“Littering isn’t top-of-mind for most people,” he explained. “We need to first get people talking and, in the process, begin establishing the social norm that littering is a socially unacceptable behavior.”

Past anti-litter campaigns have been used to spur America’s conscious. On Earth Day, 1971, a Public Service Announcement featuring Native American actor Chief Iron Eyes Cody and the tagline line, “People Start Pollution. People can stop it.” aired for the first time. Iron Eyes Cody became synonymous with environmental concern and achieved lasting fame as, “The Crying Indian.”

By the end of the campaign, Keep America Beautiful local teams had helped to reduce litter by as much as 88 percent in 300 communities, 38 states, and several countries. The success of the Keep America Beautiful anti-litter campaign led to hundreds of other environmental messages through the years, from many different sources, including the Ad Council.

In 1970, the Keep America Beautiful toll-free hotline began offering a free brochure, and more than 100,000 copies were requested within the first four months.

As more and more people learn the importance of living green, land pollution and the reality of its ecological impact becomes more and more prevalent in American’s mindset.

• 80 percent of items placed in landfills each year could have been recycled;
• more than 30 billion non-biodegradable foam cups are used each year, and;
• more than 20 billion tons of topsoil is lost each year due to land pollutions.

Most land pollution comes from industrial and commercial sources such as factories, oil refineries and other industries.