Litter Prevention

Clean Virginia Waterways, together with BoatU.S. Foundation, created this sign that reminds boaters and anglers to "Bring it Back." The signs are laminated for outdoor use. They measure 8" x 8" and are available in English and Spanish.

If you know of a marina or boat dock in Virginia that could use a sign, please contact CVW at cleanva@longwood. edu or call us at 434-395-2602.

Free (while supplies last) thanks to a Grassroots Grant from the BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water.



People, governments, schools and businesses around the world are looking for the answer to decrease littering. Here are some solutions that have been tried.

1. Pick it up.
Litter can be picked up by volunteers or by paid employees. Hiring people to pick up litter can cost a business, park, or school a great deal of money. According to the Philadelphia Daily News (March 27, 2000) Penn State estimates that its landscapers spend 10 hours a week picking up discarded cigarettes at an estimated cost of $150,000. Some businesses also have their employees pick up litter from parking lots, entrances, and landscaped areas. "Adopt a Spot," "Adopt a Park" and other adoption programs involve volunteers in cleaning certain areas. Some schools encourage student groups to Adopt a Spot on campus that they clean at least twice a year. Cleanups are also organized by nonprofit groups, including the International Coastal Cleanup, an annual worldwide event organized by The Ocean Conservancy. Some states, including Virginia, have prisoners pick up litter along highways.

2. Education-educate people about the need to dispose of waste properly.
Studies show that litter can be decreased by 50 percent or more through educational campaigns. Signs, messages printed on packaging, personal messages, and presentations about the harmful impacts of litter will decrease some littering behavior. However, like any public education campaign, the educational message must be continual. A one-time educational effort will not result in long-term changes in behavior. We as a society must become intolerant of littering behavior.

3. Have a "no smoking" policy or allow smoking only in designated areas.
More and more public beaches, parks, open-air shopping malls, and college campus are trying to concentrate cigarette butt litter by requiring smokers to use only designated areas. These areas should have ash receptacles, lighting, seating, and be safe and convenient. Often the use of these designated smoking areas are promoted for public health reasons (secondhand smoke) and fire prevention, as well as a litter-control mechanism. This approach is sometimes attacked because it restricts smokers' rights (after all, smoking is a legal activity), and it is trying to address one behavior (littering) by restricting another behavior (smoking). Also, beware of unintended consequences. Some college campuses have placed a total ban on smoking, but have found that smokers are forced onto adjoining properties or onto public streets to smoke.

4. Provide ash receptacles and trashcans at all entry/exit points of buildings, at bus stops, and other areas where people frequently need to discard their trash and cigarettes.
According to Keep America Beautiful, which is conducting a scientific study on cigarette littering behavior, these "Transition Points" are the places smokers need to discard their cigarettes before entering buildings or getting on a bus.

5. Distribute pocket ashtrays and trash bags for cars.
Many types of pocket ashtrays are on the market. Some are made of foil and are disposable, while others are made of plastics or metals, and can be used for years. These can be purchased in bulk and distributed by community groups or businesses as part of a litter-prevention campaign. Trash bags for cars are also frequently distributed by community groups that are trying to reduce litter.

6. Enforce litter laws.

7. Engage the businesses that make or distribute items that are frequently littered.
Beverage manufacturers, fast food restaurants, tobacco manufacturers, convenience stores and other such businesses could do much more to educate their customers, contribute to anti-litter campaigns, support local cleanup events, and invest in public education on litter issues. They need to take an active and responsible role in educating people about litter prevention, and devote resources to the cleanup of litter.

8. Anti-Litter Taxes
In some states, consumers pay a small "anti-litter tax" every time they purchase a canned or bottled beverage. These funds support anti-litter efforts. A similar tax on cigarettes, fast food and convenience food purchases have been proposed in some communities. Some countries and states have "bottle bills" which discourages littering.

Do you have more ideas about litter prevention? Please send Clean Virginia Waterways an email!


Clean Virginia Waterways has worked with many other groups to increase the amount of litter prevention education in Virginia and the U.S. CVW's litter prevention educational efforts include:

"Model Community" project in conjunction with The Ocean Conservancy, Philip Morris, and the City of Hampton.

The International Coastal Cleanup in Virginia

Litter prevention campaign for college campuses

Research on the impacts of cigarette butts when littered in the environment

Clean Virginia Waterways has also served as a consultant to:

Keep America Beautiful's cigarette litter program

United Nation's World Health Organization

Virginia's Adopt-a-Stream Program

Other initiatives by the Commonwealth of Virginia to increase recycling and decrease littering.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has extensive litter prevention information. Every county in Virginia has a Litter Prevention and Recycling Coordinator. To find the coordinator in your county, visit the DEQ web page.

The ribbons on balloons contribute to animal entanglement. Learn more about balloons as litter. Photo courtesy of The Ocean Conservancy.

About Litter and Debris:

  Litter and Debris in our Waterways - Impacts, Sources and Solutions Page   What Volunteers Found in Virginia's Waterways--Data from past International Coastal Cleanups
  Litter Prevention Page   How Data from the ICC are used
  Impacts of aquatic debris   The International Coastal Cleanup in Virginia
  Article about Aquatic Litter and Debris (written by CVW for school teachers and others)   Solutions
  Cigarette Butt Litter—A Special Problem   Balloons as litter—A Special Problem

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Compiled by Clean Virginia Waterways, Longwood University, Farmville, VA 23909
434-395-2602 Fax: 434-395-2825 Email: