Based on a 2020 National Litter Study, the US produces about 24 billion pieces of roadside litter every year, and another 24 billion pieces can be found along waterways. You can see it everywhere you go, along every road or riverside in the country. Large metropolitan areas tend to have the most roadside litter per capita, but highways definitely represent the most roadside litter per mile. Litter is an epidemic, decreasing the value of regions and encouraging more litter as people think their little bottle or cigarette will simply be joining millions of "friends".
It's time to clean up. States are spending millions on litter cleanup every year to counteract millions of people who toss their fast food wrappers and soda cans out the car window on a regular basis. While we looked high and low for statistics on roadside litter by state, the Keep America Beautiful 2020 study did not collate its data in this way. What we did find was a statistical analysis of the top ten most litter-ridden cities in the US. These statistics are based on local reports and the number of blocks that have visible litter piling up by the road.
Top Ten Cities with the Most Roadside Litter
#1: San Francisco
While California prides itself on its eco-friendly efforts, and San Francisco may brag about being an extremely low-trash city, the litter in the streets tells a different story. San Francisco residents report that over 18% of residential blocks are strewn with visible litter, even in neighborhoods where the median home purchase price is inching toward half a million.
#2: Los Angeles
An extremely dense California city, Los Angeles also reports lower waste numbers, but residents indicate that 15% of residential blocks have visible litter on roadsides. In these reporting communities, the average household income is $75,000 and median home values are around $300,000. LA is known for its tumultuous relationship with green efforts, and its roadside debris problem is not surprising.
In the city of Brotherly Love, 12.5% of neighborhoods report visible trash and roadside litter on their blocks. Pennsylvania is also the fourth greatest state for landfill waste per-capita, and its litter problem aligns with this growing issue.
#4: New Orleans
As an incredibly popular tourist destination and party town, New Orleans has always struggled to keep the streets clean. This is especially true when the sun goes down in the French Quarter or Mardis Gras beads fly. New Orleans residents report that 12% of residential blocks show clear litter on the roadside in their home neighborhoods.
You wouldn't think that Portland, at the heart of eco-loving Oregon, would be on the list of litter condenters, but here it sits. Portland residents have reported that residential blocks with visible litter have reached 12% among homes worth an average of $240,000.
Next on the list is Memphis, Tennessee. The legendary country music capital is always busy, and struggles with roadside litter more than most of the surrounding communities. Neighborhoods in Memphis report up to 11.5% of residential blocks have visible litter on the roadside.
You rarely see Milwaukee mentioned in a list of notable US cities, but this is hardly a place of honor. Milwaukee comes in with the seventh greatest ratio of litter to neighborhood streets. Local Milwaukee residents report that 10% of neighborhoods have visible roadside litter in regions where the average home price is $160,000.
#8: New York City
Coming in at a surprising number eight, New York residents report almost exactly 10% of residential streets have visible litter, which is significantly better than California's "top" ranking litter cities. New York may have a problem when the garbage isn't taken out, but it seems their overall litter issue is under control.
Located in the middle of a dessert with an often high wind speed, litter can really get around in Phoenix. Holding down the eighth spot, Phoenix residents report that 9.8% of residential neighborhoods have visible litter on the roadside, which can contribute to decreasing property values and growing legal issues.
Coming in the last spot of the top 10, Chicago residents report that 9.4% of residential streets show signs of visible litter and debris piling up despite the city's initiatives to keep the streets clean.
The Litter Problem Is Improving
Believe it or not, even with litter-ranking cities and nearly 50 billion tons of litter counted, our nation is going in the right direction in regards to litter. According to the 2020 National Litter Study, roadside litter from 2009 to 2020 has decreased by 54%. While more than 40% of Americans admit to sometimes littering, the total litter pieces per capita has reduced from 167 pieces of litter per year to only 73.
All of this is potentially great news, but it's still not enough. If we want to enjoy the natural beauty of our cities - whether on the commute or embarking on longer road trips - it's time to put even greater effort into reducing litter, picking up litter, and making sure litter winds up in the right sealed bin.
Reducing Litter Through Receptacle Placement
One of the best ways to help reduce the overall litter in any community is access to proper receptacles. People are far more likely to drop packaging from food or drinks if there is already a convenient trashcan nearby. Trash Cans at rest stops can reduce trash on the roadways, and even clever wind catch receptacles would make an improvement.
Here at Trashcans Unlimited, we are ready to help every city, neighborhood, and roadway become better equipped with the receptacles necessary to keep litter off the ground. Our trash cans include models that are wind-proof and can pair stylistically to the design of any public or outdoor space. Let's work together to reduce the roadside litter in every state, no matter where you live or how much trash may have piled up over time.
Contact Trashcans Unlimited to explore your options for venue, rest stop, and roadside trash receptacles to help reduce litter from sea to shining sea.