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​Pennsylvania's Litter Action Plan

Strategies for all Pennsylvanians to help in the fight against litter

Cover of Litter Action Plan showing recycling and a clean PennsylvaniaPennsylvania is beautiful. Home to 21 scenic byways, historic landmarks such as Gettysburg National Military Park, streams and waterways, and 121 state parks covering 300,000 acres. Pennsylvanians are proud of our beautiful landscapes and take pride in our communities.

However, Pennsylvania has a littering problem.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Department of Transportation (PennDOT) partnered with Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful (KPB), the state affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, in 2018-2019 to perform a research study documenting the quantity, composition, and sources of litter in Pennsylvania as well as a survey of Pennsylvanian’s attitudes towards littering.

The findings were significant. There are approximately 502.5 million pieces of litter on Pennsylvania’s roadways, predominantly single use materials like cigarette butts and plastic bottles. The same survey found that over 90 percent of survey respondents reported that litter is a problem in the Commonwealth, impacting the environment and leading to decreased property values.

Concurrently, KPB commissioned a survey of nine cities on the money they spend to manage litter and illegal dumping. Participating cities included: Allentown, Altoona, Erie, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, and Scranton. Again, the findings were shocking. Collectively, these nine Pennsylvania cities spend more than $68.5 million annually on prevention, education, abatement, and enforcement efforts to address litter and illegal dumping throughout their respective communities. Environmental justice is an additional factor that should be considered. The nine cities surveyed all contain environmental justice areas that have been historically overburdened by pollution. Spending $68.5 million annually to remedy the results of preventable actions, like illegal dumping and littering, inadvertently diverts funding from other critical programs.

Using this Pennsylvania-specific litter data as a starting point, DEP and PennDOT are spearheading a litter reduction initiative aimed at changing Pennsylvanians’ behaviors and preventing commonly littered items from being littered in the first place. As part of this initiative, working with stakeholders, DEP and PennDOT have developed Pennsylvania’s first ever Statewide Litter Action Plan. The goal of Pennsylvania’s Litter Action Plan is to prevent littering through the development and implementation of a research-based plan of recommended actions that can be used statewide to change littering behavior over time.

Our sense of community is strong, and we want to improve that by reducing litter. Whether we're driving to work, cycling on one of the 2,440 miles of Bicycle PA routes, walking with our friends, or dropping our kids off at daycare, we want to see clean spaces.

To develop Pennsylvania’s Litter Action Plan, DEP and PennDOT formed 4 workgroups around 4 specific behavior change strategies. These strategies are part of Keep America Beautiful's behavior change model, which is based on a renowned social psychologist’s nationally recognized model of behavior change. The four workgroups and their focus areas included:

  1. Litter Education and Outreach – Education and outreach are essential components to making sure all Pennsylvanians know littering is unacceptable and there are better ways to manage their waste. This workgroup focused on potential outreach strategies and recommendations for a statewide anti-litter education campaign.
  2. Infrastructure – Ensuring infrastructure, like trash cans and waste management services, are available to all Pennsylvania’s communities is key to addressing the issue of litter in Pennsylvania. This workgroup focused on ways to ensure Pennsylvania communities have the necessary infrastructure in place to help ensure there are ample ways to properly manage commonly littered items.
  3. Litter Laws and Enforcement – Regulations and enforcement are a tool at preventing and deterring littering behavior. This workgroup evaluated the effectiveness of current ordinances, laws and statutes and their enforcement as it relates to reducing litter in Pennsylvania. The workgroup also identified possible statutory and enforcement updates to ensure littering regulations are enforced.
  4. Partnerships – Government cannot tackle litter alone. This workgroup involved Pennsylvania businesses and industry leaders to provide feedback on the recommendations heard in other workgroups and work to identify ways to help reduce litter across the state.

Through the Litter Action Plan workgroups, DEP and PennDOT facilitated conversations between state agencies, local governments, community groups, members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and business stakeholders to create practical solutions to address Pennsylvania’s littering problem that will benefit all people who work, play, and reside in the Commonwealth.

The Litter Action Plan is structured to show that everyone has a role to play in the fight against litter. As such, there are 5 main sections outlining actions state government, the General Assembly, local governments, businesses, and the general public can take to prevent littering.

While these recommendations are not mandated actions, the success of the Pennsylvania Litter Action Plan will depend on everyone taking steps to implement these recommended behavior change strategies.

Successful implementation of these recommendations will result in a cleaner Pennsylvania with the general public, state and local government, the General Assembly, community and environmental organizations, and businesses all doing their part to prevent littering. All Pennsylvanians should aspire that through implementation of the recommended actions in this report and individual behavior change to reduce the amount of litter in Pennsylvania by 30 percent within the next 5 years. To gauge if Pennsylvania is successful in meeting this litter reduction goal, the state will sponsor visible litter surveys at multiple locations throughout the state every year for five years. Starting with data from these select locations in 2022 as the baseline data, the Commonwealth will revisit the same spots each year through 2027 to conduct visible litter surveys to see if litter is being reduced. Then, in 2027, the Commonwealth will embark on a follow up assessment of the Litter Action Plan to evaluate if Pennsylvania has been or has not been successful in changing residents’ behavior to prevent littering.
Changing Pennsylvanians’ behavior will not be easy. However, by increasing access to convenient waste disposal and recycling options and holding litterers and illegal dumpers accountable, Pennsylvania will be cleaner and more vibrant.

Letters

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Introduction

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Recommendations

This report is structured to show that everyone has a role to play in the fight against litter. There are 5 main sections outlining actions state government, the General Assembly, local governments, businesses, and the general public can take to prevent littering.

How State Government Can Lead By Example

State government expends significant resources each year to address litter throughout Pennsylvania. This is time and resources that could be better spent addressing road improvements in Pennsylvania or addressing other human health and environmental hazards. While state government cannot solve Pennsylvania’s litter problem alone, it is critical that state government agencies work together to lead by example and implement programs and policies that help Pennsylvanians reduce litter.

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What the Pennsylvania General Assembly Can Do

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has a critical role to play in helping to prevent littering in Pennsylvania. While it is already illegal to litter in Pennsylvania, there are multiple current litter laws the legislature should review and update to ensure prevention and enforcement. It’s also critical that the Pennsylvania General Assembly identify dedicated funding mechanisms to help local communities in the fight against litter. Without dedicated resources, many of the recommendations in this report will not be feasible. The Pennsylvania General Assembly has a unique opportunity to lead by example and help to end Pennsylvania’s littering problem.

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What Local Governments Can Do

Many local governments carry the burden of litter pollution, including spending significant amounts of money and time cleaning up littered and illegally dumped sites. While each community is different, there are strategies that local governments throughout Pennsylvania have implemented that have helped to address litter and illegal dumping. Through consideration of their communities’ specific needs, development of local ordinances and zoning requirements and contracting waste and recycling services, local leaders can provide their residents with the resources needed to prevent mismanagement of waste.

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How Businesses Can Help

Pennsylvania businesses have a unique role to play in the fight against litter. By implementing litter reduction best practices, like ensuring responsible waste management at their establishments, encouraging customers to help reduce littering, and ensuring their properties are litter free, businesses can become a key partner in Pennsylvania’s litter prevention initiative.

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How We All Can Fight Litter

Pennsylvania’s litter problem harms all Pennsylvanians. Litter negatively impacts the health and environment of our communities, brings down our property values, and drains government resources. The message that needs to be delivered is that all Pennsylvanians can be a part of the solution to littler. This can be as simple as making a conscious effort to reduce your use of commonly littered items or safely picking up littered items as you walk past it on the street.

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Conclusion

A diverse state, Pennsylvanians have a hard time agreeing on which convenience store is their favorite or which city has the best sports, but 90 percent of Pennsylvanians agree that litter is a problem. With over 500 million pieces of litter on our roadways to impact waterways and wildlife and lower property values, addressing Pennsylvania’s litter problem is the responsibility of everyone, from motorists to municipalities to state government to businesses.
Now is the time to shift our focus away from picking up litter and instead towards changing Pennsylvanians’ behavior to prevent litter from falling on our roadsides, waterways, and sidewalks in the first place. Preserving Pennsylvania’s beautiful landscapes fosters pride in our communities.

The recommendations and best practices included in this report provide practical solutions for the general public, local governments, state government, the General Assembly and Pennsylvania businesses on how to help in the fight against litter. While each community’s needs and challenges are different, the report highlights successful programs and strategies that can be used and duplicated to fit the needs of any community. It is important to not these recommendations are not mandated actions. However, the success of the Pennsylvania Litter Action Plan will depend on everyone taking steps to implement these recommended behavior change strategies.

This plan envisions a cleaner Pennsylvania with the general public, state and local government, the General Assembly, community and environmental organizations, and businesses all doing their part to prevent littering. All Pennsylvanians should aspire that through implementation of the recommended actions in this report and individual behavior change to reduce the amount of litter in Pennsylvania by 30 percent within the next 5 years. To gauge if Pennsylvania is successful in meeting this litter reduction goal, the state will sponsor smaller-scale visible litter surveys at multiple locations throughout the state every year for five years. Starting with data from these select locations in 2022 as the baseline data, the state will revisit the same spots each year through 2027 to conduct visible litter surveys to see if litter is being reduced. Then, in 2027, the Commonwealth will embark on a follow up assessment of the Litter Action Plan to reflect on the successes, failures, and areas to improve upon in changing Pennsylvanians’ behavior and preventing litter.

While it will be no small feat to change Pennsylvanians’ behavior, by working together state government, local government, the General Assembly, businesses, and individuals can ensure that Pennsylvanians have access to convenient waste and recycling, understand that littering and illegal dumping are not acceptable ways to dispose of trash, and hold litterers and illegal dumpers accountable for their actions. The result will be a cleaner, more vibrant Pennsylvania.

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