Keep America Beautiful Releases Largest Study on Litter in America

Roadway litter down 54% since 2009, but still 50 billion pieces on the ground

STAMFORD, Conn. (May 19, 2021) – Keep America Beautiful®, the nation’s leading community improvement for-impact organization, today has announced the summary of its 2020 study on litter in America. The Keep America Beautiful 2020 National Litter Study provides a detailed understanding of the quantity, composition, and sources of litter across the United States.

The organization’s 2020 Study is a follow up to its landmark 2009 study, which builds on a history of science-based litter research started by Keep America Beautiful in 1969.

“I am thrilled to continue the history of Keep America Beautiful as the leader in litter research in the United States, and methodology that has now been used around the world,” said Dr. Helen Lowman, Keep America Beautiful President and CEO.

Key findings include:

  • Nearly 50 billion pieces of litter along U.S. roadways and waterways
  • Slightly more litter along waterways (25.9B) than roadways (23.7B)
  • 152 items for each U.S. resident
  • More than 2,000 pieces of litter per mile (both roadway and waterway)
  • 90% of people surveyed believe litter is a problem in their state
  • 6 billion pieces more than 4 inches in size
  • Most littered item remains cigarette butts, but this litter is down almost 70%
  • 207.1M PPE items littered

“This data will help inform our programs for years to come addressing both litter on the ground and the act of littering,” said Lowman. “Our many diverse partners, our 700 affiliate organizations, and the millions of volunteers activated annually will use this data to work towards our vision that everyone in America lives in a beautiful community.”

Keep America Beautiful retained Burns & McDonnell, a leading environmental engineering firm, to conduct its 2020 Study, which has four components: Public Attitudes Survey, Visible Litter Survey, Behavioral Observations Survey, and Financial Cost of Litter Survey (ongoing).

Sponsors of the Keep America Beautiful 2020 National Litter Study include dozens of individuals, corporations, industry groups, and foundations highlighting our belief in the strength of bringing everyone to the table. The largest supporters include Altria, American Beverage Association, American Chemistry Council, Dow, Food Packaging Institute, The Garver Black Hilyard Family Foundation, National Association of Convenience Stores, Plastics Industry Association, and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco.

The full summary of the report is available here.

About Keep America Beautiful  
Keep America Beautiful, the nation’s leading community improvement nonprofit organization, inspires and educates people to take action every day to improve and beautify their community environment. Established in 1953, Keep America Beautiful strives to End Littering, Improve Recycling, and Beautify America’s Communities. We believe everyone has a right to live in a clean, green, and beautiful community, and shares a responsibility to contribute to that vision.   

The Keep America Beautiful Model for Change – steeped in education, research, and behavioral science – is the cornerstone of Keep America Beautiful. We empower generations of community and environmental stewards with volunteer programs, hands-on experiences, educational curricula, practical advice, and other resources. The organization is driven by the work and passion of more than 650 Keep America Beautiful affiliates, millions of volunteers, and the collaborative support of corporate partners, social and civic service organizations, academia, municipalities, elected officials, and individuals. Join us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Donate and take action at kab.org.  

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