Keep America Beautiful Releases Largest Study on Litter in America

National Nonprofit Announces Top-Line Results from Landmark Litter Study

STAMFORD, Conn. (April 22, 2021) – Keep America Beautiful®, the nation’s leading community improvement for-impact organization, today released data from its 2020 study on litter in America. The Keep America Beautiful 2020 National Litter Study provides a comprehensive understanding of the quantity, composition, and sources of litter along roadways, waterways, and in non-roadway areas 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. Keep America Beautiful retained Burns & McDonnell, a leading engineering, architecture, and construction 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).

The data collected reveal litter is down on American roadways by 54% since 2009. However, in total, there are still 50 billion pieces of litter on the ground in the U.S., according to the study.

For the first time ever, the Keep America Beautiful 2020 National Litter Study provides a valid, national estimate of litter along waterways in the U.S. and insights about the relationship between litter on waterways and roadways. The study shows that, although roadway litter is down by more than 50%, there is slightly more litter along waterways.

Additional key findings include:

  • 90% of U.S. residents agree that litter is a problem in their state.
  • Of the 50 billion pieces of litter, 24 billion are along roadways and 26 billion are along waterways.
  • An estimated 207 million PPE items were littered on U.S. roadways and waterways through early fall 2020.
  • More than 2,000 pieces of litter per mile

With the information from the study, Keep America Beautiful quantifies that if littering were to stop today and waste was properly managed, and every American picked up 152 pieces of litter at the same time, we would have a litter-free nation.

“Behavior change is at the root of Keep America Beautiful,” said Helen Lowman, PhD, Keep America Beautiful President and CEO. “With the unity of Americans to pick up 152 pieces of litter – and ultimately, to stop littering – we can ensure that everyone lives in a clean and litter-free community.”  

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, Garver Hilyard Black Foundation, National Association of Convenience Stores, Plastics Industry Association, and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco.

For more information on the study, click 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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