Follow the Money

MSW ManagementIt’s pretty much a no-brainer that littering and illegal dumping are bad for communities and the environment. What is not so plain to see is the cost incurred every year on cleanup, enforcement, prevention, and education. That’s because they’re dispersed across a number of different government agencies and departments, not to mention community organizations and volunteer groups. 

Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful is a nonprofit organization that is the state affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. Last year it commissioned consulting firm Burns & McDonnell to find out how much it costs nine cities in Pennsylvania to manage litter and illegal dumping. The results of the study were recently released and the amount is sobering. Allentown, Altoona, Erie, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, and Scranton together spend more than $68 million every year. 

80% of the total costs go toward cleanup efforts. Only 13% is spent on preventative measures. In a recent press release, Shannon Reiter, the president of Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, said, “Understanding these costs is a critical first step in developing strategies to change littering behavior. We’re seeing that even extensive and expensive cleanup efforts can’t keep pace with the amount of litter that’s accumulating. The only way to reduce this cost burden is to reduce littering through preventive measures, such as expanding solid waste and recycling infrastructure and developing effective school-based and consumer education.” 

To go along with the Burns & McDonnell study, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful and the Departments of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Transportation (PennDOT) released the results of statewide scientific data on litter and attitudes toward litter.  Field results indicate more than 502 million pieces of litter on Pennsylvania roads. The most common items are cigarette butts (37%) and plastics (30%), with plastic film and beverage containers most prevalent. Motorists and pedestrians are leading sources of litter, followed by improperly secured truck loads. Additionally, more than 90% of phone survey respondents said littering is a problem in Pennsylvania. More than 76% said it reduces property values and negatively affects tourism and business. 

You can find out more about Pennsylvania’s litter research results and littering reduction initiative at 

What are your ideas for discouraging and/or preventing littering and illegal dumping? 

How much do you think it’s costing your community? 

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