Going Litter-LESS

I hope you are enjoying the dog days of summer! Whether you spent the summer in town for a staycation, or went on a fabulous trip, there is nothing better than soaking up the sun, being barefoot and care free, and cooling off in a river, lake or ocean.  You may have noticed, however, that wherever you were, there often was litter.  Litter seems especially prevalent at the end of summer because so many of us spend time in the great outdoors.  That is why September’s Everyday Eco-Habit is going “Litter-Less."  I promise going Litter-LESS is just as easy as going Straw-LESS and going Bag-LESS. You can even turn it into a fun family and friends outing!  Indeed, I will be asking you to go Litter-LESS with the whole world on September 15thfor World Cleanup Day.  The rest of the month, I would like you to join me in the Eco-Habit of disposing of your own litter properly and picking up three pieces of litter every day. Simple, right?   Will these little acts make a big environmental impact? Most definitely.

Why should you adopt the Eco-Habit of going Litter-LESS?  The most obvious reason is that litter is aesthetically unpleasing - in other words, it’s ugly!  The not as obvious reason is that litter is wreaking havoc on our environment.  It seems no place is safe from litter - from the highest mountain tops of Mount Everest to the deepest depths of the ocean, litter has become abundant.  I learned some interesting facts about litter from a Keep America Beautiful Study, including the fact that America spends about $11.5 billion on cleaning up litter every year.  Did you know litter occurs most on roadsides?  Yup, 6,357 pieces of litter on average per mile to be exact.  Guess what age group litters the most? Individuals under the age of 30, no matter the gender.   

Even more interesting than these stats is what happens to the litter that doesn’t get picked up.  Much of that litter eventually leads to the oceans, where it contaminates our fish, destroys our coral reefs and kelp forests, and harms our poor little sea turtle again.  In fact, it’s estimated there are over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic trash just in our oceans, which is why July and August’s Eco-Habits were going Straw-LESS and Bag-LESS.  

What can we do?  Go Litter-LESS!  Start by always picking up your own trash and disposing of it properly into waste, recycle or compost bins.  It is estimated 81% of litter is thrown away intentionally - we can change this so easily!  Some of you may remember Woodsy Owl’s motto, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.”  Woodsy Owl encouraged us to be a “good citizen” by simply picking up our trash and leaving a public place as we found it.  Let’s all “give a hoot and don’t pollute” by simply disposing of our waste properly.     

Next, simply pick up three pieces of trash you come across during your daily activities.  Do you hike in the mountains?  Pick up three pieces of litter on your next hike.  Do you go to a river, lake or beach?  You can pick up three pieces of litter there too!  You can pick up three pieces of litter as you walk into work. Are you in school or are your kids in school?  Start a litter campaign and ask fellow students to pick up littler there!  These students are doing it and making a huge impact.  It’s really that simple.  Even whole countries can do it.  Check out Rwanda’s Umuganda Day, where all citizens, the President included, come together for the common purpose of picking up litter to create a better Rwanda.  In Australia, where my sister and her family live, an amazing non-profit called Take 3 for the Sea asks AU citizens to simply take 3 pieces of “rubbish” when they leave the ocean, waterway or anywhere they are.  They have government sponsored billboards with the catchy slogan, “Don’t be a Tosser.  If it’s not in the bin, it’s on you.”  The result?  According to my teenage niece and nephew, it is “uncool” to be a “Tosser” in Australia.  Imagine if everyone in the world stopped being a “Tosser” and picked up just 3 pieces of trash every day.  There would be so much less pollution!  So don’t be uncool- Pick up Three!

On September 15, I have the perfect opportunity for you go Litter-LESS.  Participate in World Cleanup Day,  National Cleanup Day, or Coastal Cleanup Dayto pick up litter in your local area and advocate for a cleaner environment.  Millions of volunteers in over 150 countries, about 5% of the world’s population across the globe, participate in these events!  Last year, about 20.5 million pounds of trash and recyclables were collected!  It’s easy to get involved in these cleanup events. You can click hereto find a location in your area or, if you live in California, check out this link from the California Coastal Commission.  Can’t find a location near you?  You can start your own clean up and add it to the site!  Here is a chart of the top 10 trash items collected and how many were picked up.  Cigarette butts topped the list as 2.4 million were found.  Plastic straws, our first Eco-Habit that we nipped in the bud in July, were on the top 10 with 643,562 collected. 

If you are busy September 15, that’s ok.  You can dispose of your own waste properly every day and pick up litter anytime.  We’re making this easy, remember.  Just pick up three pieces.  Anytime.  Anywhere. Everyday. 

Are you ready to start this simple, world-changing Eco-Habit of going Litter-LESS? September, here we come. 

Take it one step further:

  • Get your family and friends on board and have everyone join you in your new Eco-Habit of picking up three pieces of trash a day.

  • Join World Cleanup Day, Coastal Cleanup Dayor National Cleanup Day. Find a location near you.

  • Participate in another local clean-up led by one of these fabulous environmental nonprofits. Ocean organizations like Surfrider Foundation have over 15,000 volunteers that have helped with local beach clean ups. You can check them out here. The Ocean Conservancy also has hundreds of locations worldwide where you can volunteer. Heal the Bay has over 50 coastal and inland locations in Los Angeles County where you can volunteer. And inland organizations like Cleantrails has tons of opportunities to keep our rivers, lakes, streams and hikes clean too. Or you can volunteer with the Los Angeles Waterkeeper’s cleanup at Dockweiler State Beach.

  • Have some fun with your Litter-LESS collection and add it to the global movement! Download the CleanSwell App from the Ocean Conservancy and document the litter you collect. The litter you collect will be instantly added to the Ocean Conservancy’s Global Trash Database.

  • Join a local non-profit that’s committed to helping create a cleaner earth. A few of my favorites include: the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Surfrider Foundation,5 Gyres, Algalita, NRDC, Heal the Bay, Oceana, Debris Free Oceans,Project Aware, Clean Ocean Access, Sierra Club,River Network, Treepeople, Lets Do It, and of course, the environmental education organization I co-founded, Grades of Green.

  • Adopt a spot to keep clean. Here is a step-by-step process from Grades of Green.

  • Refuse single use plastics. Start by bringing your reusable straw, bag, utensils, and cup when you’re out and about. As Hilary Kotoun from Sailors of the Sea states, “The simplest way to start (cleaning the ocean) is to stop using single use plastic straws, utensils, water bottles and bags. They are consistently in the top 10 items found on beach cleanups worldwide and bags and utensils are considered to be the deadliest for marine animals, such as sea turtles, birds and seals.