Keep America Beautiful® has 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.”

The Keep America Beautiful 2020 Litter in America Study was funded in part by generous support from Altria, Dow, The Garver Black Hilyard Family Foundation, National Association of Convenience Stores, and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco.

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