Littering has decreased by 61 percent in America during the past 40 years, but the amount of plastic litter is actually up 165.4 percent, according to a study released today by Keep America Beautiful Inc. Is it any wonder that there's public pressure to ban or tax plastic bags and polystyrene foodservice products, and to place deposits on PET water bottles and other beverage containers? KAB touts the new study as the largest litter study ever conducted in the U.S., and the first major national survey of litter in the U.S. in 40 years. Despite the perception that plastic is the top litter problem, the study found that it is actually No. 3. Tobacco products are the biggest problem, accounting for 37.7 percent of all litter, and paper products are No. 2 at 21.9 percent. Plastic accounts for 19.3 percent of litter, followed by metal at 5.8 percent and glass at 4.5 percent. But the big problem is that plastics' share of the litter pie has exploded. Since 1969, paper litter has dropped 78.9 percent; metal litter is down 88.2 percent, glass is down 86.4 percent -- but plastic is up 165.4 percent. There's a good explanation for the increase, of course -- the amount of plastic packaging used in the U.S. over the past 40 years has skyrocketed (up 340 percent per capita). Much of the gains by plastics have been at the expense of metal, glass and paper packaging. So, naturally, researchers are going to find more plastic in litter today than in 1969. Some more highlights from the report:
- Litter conservatively costs our nation $11.5 billion per year. These are direct costs, including cleanup and prevention programs.
- There are also major indirect costs: including decreased commerce, tourism, and health effects. A significant problem: decreased property values. 93 percent of homeowners, 55 percent of real estate agents and 90 percent of property appraisers said a littered neighborhood would decrease their assessment of a home's value.
- The study said there are at least 51.2 billion pieces of litter on roadways in the U.S.; an average of 6,729 pieces of litter per mile.