Monday, December 4, 2023


Half a billion pounds of litter weigh heavily on our roadways; lasting repercussions ahead

Growing up, it was “Don’t be a litterbug!” As a teacher, I taught, “Give a hoot. Don’t pollute.” Even today, the mantra continues: “Keep America beautiful!” But is anybody listening? On a recent Sunday drive, I couldn’t help but notice all the trash along the highways. Maybe you’ve noticed it, too. What’s with all the litter?

Litter statistics

In fact, littering has decreased by 54% in the last decade. However, it remains a troublesome problem. Since the pandemic, personal protective equipment like masks and gloves have added to the ongoing litter issue. Not only does litter detract from the beauty of nature, but it can also negatively affect people, plants, and animals, too.

A 2020 study conducted by the folks at “Keep America Beautiful” served as a follow-up to the comprehensive 2009 national initiative on litter. Conducted during the COVID pandemic, the research team and others across the country picked up half a billion pounds of litter and debris. They recycled more than 250 million pounds of the material found along half a million miles of roadways, trails, and waterways. That’s a lot of litter!

Litter’s consequences

Litter is more than just an eyesore. Litter has very real consequences that can affect us at local, regional, and even national levels. Trash and debris along our community streets and roadways can negatively impact local economic development. It’s costly for municipalities to clean up, as well.

Litter along heavily traveled roadways can also lead to accidents. Swerving your RV to avoid hitting trash on the road can be very dangerous, both to you and the other drivers near you. Running over trash can be just as hazardous.

Confection trash like food and drink leftovers, candy wrappers, and other food-source litter can impact animals, too. This kind of debris attracts animals in search of food. Animals that find food in populated areas will venture farther and farther from their original habitats. This isn’t good for the animals or for the community’s safety.

Litter can eventually end up in our nation’s waterways and the world’s oceans. Researchers estimate that more than one million animals die each year after becoming trapped in or sickened by ingesting litter. Many of these deaths are marine animals and reptiles.

How to help

Instead of simply bemoaning the trashed highways, city streets, and even parks where we RV, each person can help alleviate the problem of litter. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Set an example. Teach your children and grandchildren the importance of putting trash in its place. Don’t toss trash on the ground. Dispose of it properly. Never toss cigarettes or any trash out of your car window.
  • Keep lids tight. Make sure your trash can lid fits securely—even in gusts of wind. Tell your camp host or ranger if you notice broken, missing, or loose lids that should be replaced.
  • Pick it up! If you see litter, pick it up. It’s usually best not to confront strangers in the campground about their littering. Instead, in a friendly, helpful manner, let them know where trash receptacles are located throughout the campground.
  • Speak up. If you see a dumpster that needs attention in the campground, tell the park manager. Also, speak to them if you see other campers that continue to willfully litter.

Do you notice more litter along our roadways lately? Take our poll then leave a comment below.


Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh is an avid RVer and occasional work camper. Retired from 30+ years in the field of education as an author and educator, she now enjoys sharing tips and tricks that make RVing easier and more enjoyable.



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Mike Albert (@guest_223696)
9 months ago

This is a late response, but life happens. We live in Bucks County, PA on a state road in what is considered to be more rural than suburban. Every week when I’m there, we pick up papers, cups and bottles and dispose of them in a 96 gal trash container.
We also live in Punta Gorda, FL and boat when we can. Every time we go out, I bring a large trash bag. We scoop up paper, plastic bags, cans and plastic bottles. We normally fill a trash bag about 3/4 full.
It’s our earth and if we don’t take care of it, we can’t enjoy it in the future.

Diane McGovern
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Albert

Responses are never late, Mike, especially with such an important message as yours. Thank you for all you do to help take care of our earth. We’re all in this together, as they say. It’s a shame there aren’t more folks like you, rather than there seeming to be more and more people who just don’t care about what they’re doing to all of us and our environment. Have a good night. 😀 –Diane at

Mike (@guest_223433)
9 months ago

The litter that grosses me out are the bottles filled with pee. These should never be thrown out by the side of the road.

Neal Davis (@guest_223412)
9 months ago

We live on a heavily traveled road. Apparently many of those driving it live on a different road, but stop at a convenience store 2.5 miles before they pass by our pastures. Further, it must take them about 2.4 miles to finish whatever drink or food they bought at the store and, not wanting to overfill their wastebasket at home, discard it as they drive past. Last winter we filled two 55-gallon garbage bags with their detritus. I don’t know how much we’ll get next week, but I’m sure it will be similar to last year. I only wish I could return every wrapper, every glass or plastic bottle to whoever discarded it. 🙁

Gail (@guest_223609)
9 months ago
Reply to  Neal Davis

Thank you for picking up the litter, Neal. My heart breaks when I see so much trash along the roadways. Thanks again!

Uncle Swags (@guest_223382)
9 months ago

Litter is a good indicator of the socio-economics of the local community and whether they take pride in where they live. Same with the various state and county parks and especially those with water access. I regularly pick up select trash while kayaking and hiking mainly because it annoys me to look at, but always appreciate when someones says thanks. I also retrieve lost and abandoned fishing gear which can and does impact wildlife and have accumulated a warchest to rival Cabela’s.

rvgrandma (@guest_223368)
9 months ago

Used to be there were signs warning of fines if caught littering and police would write a ticket if seen doing it. Not any more. I live on a road that leads to the transfer station. Litter gets picked up and the next day there it is again – including chairs, mattresses, bags full of leaves or garbage. No one seems to care they lost it.

Russ (@guest_223356)
9 months ago

I have seen dramatic increases in litter in the last few years and I believe there are multiple causes to the increase. One cause I believe is the onset of Covid. With all the short-handedness on the highway crews, priorities had to be moved away from picking up trash to other priorities like road maintenance. Another reason I believe is that many of the volunteer projects for litter control have dwindled because of lack of interest and/or Covid protocols. It may also be that highway departments have become dependent on volunteers to pick up the litter, but, for whatever reason, it’s not getting done. Unfortunately I haven’t seen where things are getting any better yet. I’m sure there are probably other contributing factors as well.

Marie Beschen (@guest_223274)
9 months ago

Couldn’t agree with you more. Well said, sad.

Sarah T (@guest_223252)
9 months ago

On our trip around the country we noticed the most highway litter in Texas (everywhere) and western Louisiana.

Last edited 9 months ago by Diane McGovern
Spike (@guest_223246)
9 months ago

We spent October in Eastern Texas. The litter around and on their highways was unbelievable. I don’t know if the amounts thrown out are actually bigger or if they just don’t get it picked up as well as other states we have been in, but it was the worst I’ve seen anywhere….except for the alleys in Manhatten.

Seann Fox (@guest_223217)
9 months ago

One day while walking my dog along a trail beside the roadway to a campground in beautiful Yoho National park (Canada) I was disgusted by the amount of litter there. The next day armed with gloves and a few 45 gallon garbage bags I walked that trail again and filled 3 of them just walking 1 mile up and back. I put my money where my mouth is and instead of complaining about it I actually did something about it.

Diane McGovern
9 months ago
Reply to  Seann Fox

Good job, Seann! Thank you!!! We need more folks like you to help keep things under control because there are more and more slobs and inconsiderate people out there. Have a great day! 😀 –Diane at

Tommy Molnar (@guest_223201)
9 months ago

We drove into a BLM campground one day looking for the perfect site. We were the only people there. Great. But, the numerous trash cans were all full to overflowing with trash piled up around the large receptacles. Wifey found the website for this particular campground and left a message that explained that it was a mess with trash. No response. But, about an hour later four wildland fire trucks showed up with all these young in shape firefighters who proceeded to clean up ALL the trash in the campground. We went around and thanked every one of them. It’s a shame firefighters had to do this work, in my opinion.

Paul MacKinnon (@guest_223180)
9 months ago

I would like to offer one more reason not to litter, injury to birds of prey (hawks, owls, etc.l). I volunteer for a raptor rescue organization in NC. The vast majority of injured raptors we rescue have been hit by cars and the main reason is litter. Throwing out an apple core or banana peel may seem harmless because it will rot and decompose. Unfortunately, food litter attracts bugs, they in turn attract small birds, and they in turn attract raptors looking for their next meal. Owls, in particular, have little peripheral vision and don’t see the vehicle approaching at a high speed. So, whether it’s a fast food bag or an apple core, dispose of it properly and maybe safe the life of a raptor.

Cancelproof (@guest_223312)
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul MacKinnon

Thank you Paul MacKinnon 🙏.

Diane McGovern
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul MacKinnon

Thank you for your comment, Paul. That’s a very important message! Have a great day. 😀 –Diane at

Bob p (@guest_223164)
9 months ago

In 1985 I moved to AL, crossing the state line from TN into AL there is a sign that says “Welcome To Alabama The Beautiful” right under that sign I noticed trash and all the way to my destination. Later on in a discussion during a break at my new employer the subject of trash along the highways came up. A native Alabamian spoke up and said “if you didn’t throw trash out the window the prisoners wouldn’t have nothing to do” that’s wisdom you can’t argue with. Lol

Traveler (@guest_223194)
9 months ago
Reply to  Bob p

Maybe you can’t argue with. Bunch of entitled slobs think that. I’m sorry for you.

Cancelproof (@guest_223314)
9 months ago
Reply to  Traveler

I think Bob P was telling his story ‘tongue in cheek’, thus the LOL behind his post. I’m sorry for you.

Jesse Crouse (@guest_223213)
9 months ago
Reply to  Bob p

People are pigs.

KellyR (@guest_223365)
9 months ago
Reply to  Jesse Crouse

Hmmm, Never once have I seen a pig toss anything out along the road or leave a laundry room messed up. Please don’t malign our friends that provide that ever so wonderous smell of bacon in the morning.

Janine B (@guest_223132)
9 months ago

There’s definitely a lot more litter, but I’ve often noticed in my area that garbage trucks are often part of the problem. In the kinds of trucks that the garbage man throws the bags into the back, the bags often rip – sometimes in the process of tossing in, sometimes from the mechanism that pushes the bags toward the front of the truck. Then as the trucks are going down the road loose trash is flying out the back of the truck and littering the sides of the road. When they’re on the freeways headed to the landfill, that loose trash can catch wind and hit other vehicles; my windshield once had to be replaced due to that lovely fact.

Tom (@guest_223300)
9 months ago
Reply to  Janine B

I noticed similar problem with garbage trucks. Here they dump the garbage into the top of the truck and if there is winds it starts blowing out. I stopped one truck and told him to get out and pick it up, which he did.

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