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Keep America Beautiful Positions

KAB is pleased to share its research, expertise and experience to help legislators as policies are developed related to litter, recycling and community beautification.

Keep America Beautiful (KAB) is the nation’s leading community improvement organization, educating and activating millions of individuals across the country to end littering, improve recycling and beautify communities. Since 1953, KAB has helped clean, restore and revitalize neighborhoods, towns and cities throughout the United States, building stronger, resilient and more beautiful communities in the process.

It is the combination of expertise and grassroots engagement that makes KAB a truly unique and trusted force for community improvement —

  • Through our network of nearly 700 affiliates across America, KAB works to bring together civic organizations, businesses, local governments, and state agencies to support our vision.
  • Keep America Beautiful engages communities directly in our work, bringing residents together with volunteers to do the work and empower individuals to build more engaged and inclusive communities.
  • Since our inception, KAB has worked to shift public attitudes against litter and littering behavior through public education and awareness campaigns.
  • Our volunteers donate 12 million hours annually, cleaning 7000 miles of rivers, streams and shorelines; beautifying 60,000 miles of roads and highways; collecting 66 million pounds of litter and recyclables; cleaning 218,000 acres of parks, playgrounds, trails and public spaces; and planting more than 2 million bulbs, flowers, plants and shrubs.
  • Our research – including our 2020 National Litter Study – bring valuable insights to policymakers and community leaders to help reduce litter and drive all of us toward a more Circular Economy where today’s waste becomes valuable input for new products that people use daily.

KAB is pleased to share its research, expertise and experience to help legislators as policies are developed related to litter, recycling and community beautification.

KAB strives to build resilient communities which are Clean, Green, and Equitable. We work locally to empower communities and leverage partnerships for progress, and by providing experience and data-based perspectives to help inform policy. KAB will also work to advance outcomes by using its voice to create resilient communities that are:

Clean: Eliminating litter via efficient, effective collection systems and better recycling
Green: Becoming more climate resilient, including disaster recovery via tree planting
Equitable: Where all communities can become clean, green, and beautiful

Keep America Beautiful has experience and data-based perspectives to assist stakeholders in advancing certain policy priorities, including:

  • Programs and policies to enable a Circular Economy, including successful elements of programs that have delivered materials and engage producers (e.g., certain EPR and container deposit/redemption programs)
  • Environmental Justice/Equity
  • Community Resilience

Delivering a Circular Materials Economy

  • Keep America Beautiful supports policymakers taking action to foster a circular economy for materials to prevent mismanaged waste from littering America’s communities, roadways, and waterways. A successful circular economy depends on getting used materials back into the system (rather than being wasted as litter or in a landfill), and on the engagement of product producers and other critical stakeholders to put those materials back into new products.
  • The Keep America Beautiful 2020 National Litter Study estimates 50 billion pieces of litter were present along American roadways and waterways at the time of the study. Well-designed, national Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and container deposit/redemption policies (among others) have the potential to significantly reduce our national litter problem.
  • Additional resources are needed to improve existing recycling systems, and to develop modernized infrastructure that can process all materials in commerce today. KAB believes that the public and private sector can and should work together to grow our recycling infrastructure and educate the American public.
  • Waste management and recycling systems in the U.S. are not currently able to meet ambitious goals for dramatically growing recycling rates. Too often, non-recycled materials end up as litter in our communities.
  • The problem of littered beverage containers is significant in the United States. The Keep America Beautiful 2020 National Litter Study estimates nearly 2.8 billion pieces of beverage container litter were near U.S. roadways and waterways, accounting for approximately 5.6 percent of all litter in the United States.
  • The Keep America Beautiful 2020 National Litter Study found that, on a per capita basis, there was about half as much soda and beer litter in bottle bill states than in non-bottle bill states. In comparison, on a per capita basis, there were 30 percent fewer pieces of all other types of litter in bottle bill states than in non-bottle bill states. In sum, there is less litter in states with container deposit systems (and the education, infrastructure, and services that accompany those systems).

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Policies

There are many different types of EPR, but one widely-accepted definition describes EPR as a policy approach under which producers are given a significant responsibility – financial and/or physical – for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products. In principle, assigning such responsibility provides incentives to prevent waste at the source, to accelerate deployment of advanced systems, promote product design for recycling, and ultimately reduce the mismanagement of waste (e.g., litter). These systems all work differently, but most agree on a waste management target, then assess some fee on a defined set of products and create a governance system for the deployment and investment of collected fees to improve recycling rates.

What is needed?

The United States needs a national system that enables greater access to recycling, and increases collection and sorting of materials. Packaging material fees paid by the producer enable upfront coverage of the cost of collection, as well as the cost of recycling and treatment. National policies are needed to create economically sustainable uses for recycled materials, enabling the growth of a circular economy for packaging. Additionally, national recycling standards are needed to support a circular economy and increase the recycling rate in the United States. A well-designed EPR program and clear national standards should provide the right incentives to prevent litter, reduce waste, and encourage recycling.

Container Deposit/Redemption Policies

When a retailer buys beverages from a distributor, a deposit is paid to the distributor for each container purchased. The consumer pays the deposit to the retailer when buying the beverage and receives a refund when the empty container is returned to a supermarket or other redemption center. The distributor then reimburses the retailer or redemption center the deposit amount for each container, plus an additional handling fee in most states. Unredeemed deposits are either returned to the state, retained by distributors, or used for program administration.

What is needed?

When partnered with education, infrastructure, and services, container deposit systems may help reduce litter and mismanaged waste by incentivizing residents to be more intentional with waste disposal behavior. Through the collection of deposits, any revenue generated should stay within the system to fund recycling infrastructure, education campaigns, and other activities that keep mismanaged waste out of the environment.

Among beverage container litter, 41 percent is beer cans and bottles, 14 percent is single-serve wine and liquor. Other beverage containers, including soda, sports drinks, and water, make up the remaining littered containers. There are nearly twice as many alcoholic litter beverage containers as there are non-alcoholic litter beverage containers on the ground in the United States. Therefore, any legislation should include all beverage types and containers, with only minimal exceptions.

Although several states have taken it upon themselves to institute deposit/redemption laws, they are inconsistent. A federal program would demonstrate a national commitment to fighting litter and encouraging recycling by bestowing a clear value on these containers. Clear deposit markings and appropriate deposit values are recommended for any legislation.

Environmental Justice/Equity

  • Keep America Beautiful believes that everyone has a right to live, work, and play in a clean and green community.
  • Federal, state, and local policies affect nearly every aspect of our nation’s neighborhoods. Yet, these policies do not affect them equally–they convey benefits on some and burdens on others–building a separation between prosperous neighborhoods and those that struggle.
  • Keep America Beautiful asks policymakers to support legislation that creates flexible and healthy environments for everyone, and builds resilient, clean, and green neighborhoods.
  • By creating neighborhoods that are more connected, clean, vibrant, and inclusive, leaders will not only build stronger local communities, but stronger states and a stronger nation as well. It is a substantial but necessary investment in making the nation and all of its communities more resilient and prepared for future crises.

What is environmental justice?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”

What is needed?

Policymakers should exercise their authority and focus resources on building stronger, cleaner, greener neighborhoods. Often communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous communities are hurt by an abundance of litter, minimal access to public green space, and a lack of environmental infrastructure and services. In 2017, a joint study by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Clean Air Task Force, and the National Medical Association showed that African Americans are exposed to 38% more polluted air than white Americans, and are 75% more likely to live in fence line communities (i.e., communities affected by noise, odor, traffic, and chemical emissions from an adjacent company, industrial, or service facility).

Place-led policies and practices are essential to addressing the nation’s long-standing divisions. As policymakers continue to promote recovery and resilience, they must also address the geography of inequality within and between places, focusing on local communities as a unit of intervention. Living in a clean and green community should not be a luxury and privilege for only affluent people. Environmental justice legislation should strengthen protections and rights for vulnerable communities and provide resources to mitigate and prevent future environmental problems.

Community Resilience

  • Keep America Beautiful believes that climate change impacts individuals, their communities, and our natural environment, and poses a threat to a sustainable future and to our way of life.
  • The work of Keep America Beautiful mitigates against adverse climate outcomes, and helps communities become more resilient in the face of a changing environment. Our work helps address the effects of climate change and restore communities after natural disaster by creating new, clean places, and by re-greening the environment planting trees and building more resilient communities to face the climate crisis.
  • Keep America Beautiful engages communities to plant trees both before and after disasters, creating a system of resilience that mitigates the effects of climate change.

What is Community Resilience?

Community resilience is the ability of a community to absorb disturbance and still retain basic function and structure. This allows for the adaptation and growth of a community after disaster strikes. People—and the ways they come to rough consensus—are at the center of community resilience building.

Climate change contributes to increases in natural disasters and the severity of those disasters, threats against the sustainability of native species, and the dangers faced by residents from rising temperatures and sea levels. Climate change affects environmental, community, and individual health, as well as quality of life, economic development, the safety of our natural resources, and the resiliency of communities.

What is needed?

As policymakers consider regulatory systems to achieve climate goals, they should also consider support for local organizations, governments, and nonprofits who work to mitigate against climate impacts while building more resilient communities. Legislation that provides funding and resources for communities and individuals to end littering, improve recycling, and increase the amount of clean and green public spaces will empower ordinary Americans to be better prepared for climate change by building more resilient communities.

By reducing, reusing, and recycling materials, Americans avoid depleting our natural resources, reduce carbon emissions, and divert valuable resources away from landfills. Moreover, a robust tree canopy helps reduce energy use, cleans the air, and reduce heat islands. More green spaces not only make our environment healthier, but also create more vibrant and safer communities. Legislation that supports communities to implement local waste reduction programs and plant trees is needed to build local resiliency across the nation.

Clean and green spaces have a positive “ripple effect” on the community, including reducing the opportunity for pestilence and disease to develop. Moreover, Keep America Beautiful engages the community in this work, bringing residents together to do the work and empower them to build a more engaged and inclusive community.

Based on our research, KAB believes that to be sustainable and successful, critical aspects of policies to support our positions will be most successful when they are:

  • Product and material neutral
    Legislation to address all materials and products
  • Clear in scope
    Legislation with a well-defined scope of impact, including clearly defining the materials, products, and packaging impacted
  • Applied directly to delivery of programs and education
    Legislation that supports initiatives to change consumer behaviors and build adequate infrastructure and services structures leading to reductions in litter, improvements in recycling, and increase clean and green public spaces
  • Designed to engage all sectors
    Legislation that includes producers, distributors, retailers, waste management, government, and the social sector as part of the policy solution
  • Equitable
    Legislation to support all demographic and geographic communities
  • Designed with transparent financial models
    Legislation with clear metrics and publicly accessible data collection and reporting
  • Additionality
    Legislation designed to build on structures, programs, and policies that are shown to combat litter, improve recycling, and green public spaces rather than distracting from existing proven efforts