New Litter Prevention Research for the District of Columbia

For over 5 years, The Alice Ferguson Foundation has been addressing the trash problem through The Regional Litter Campaign. Items such as banners, posters and yard signs evoke messages intended to actualize the impact of littering behaviors. Relevant messages include “Your Litter Hits Close to Home” and “Take Control, Take Care of your Trash”. Studying the effectiveness of the campaign through behavior observation and focus groups has given us insight into why people litter and how to promote positive behaviors.

We partnered with the research firm, Opinion Works, to look at selected groups in order to find ways to resonate with Litterers in wards 5-8 in D.C. In our most recent study, the target audiences were millennials (who are in the age demographic most likely to litter) and Spanish Speaking audiences, to determine the effectiveness of the Spanish Litter Prevention Campaign materials recently developed. Some of the findings were:

  1. Litter can be relative and situational depending on the context. Many of the people surveyed live in areas were a great amount of litter is present and therefore perceive one additional piece of litter as inconsequential. Where trash is abundant or there are not enough waste containers, residents tend to rationalize the behavior as outside of their level of concern.
  2. Direct confrontation of littering is met with negativity so it does not diminish littering. The images and wording of the campaign are meant to influence communities with value laden messaging such as, trash increases nuisance animals and reduces property values. A strong connection is made with images of children around litter where a sense of imminent harm and a need for protection. Relating trash to drinking water also has a strong correlation to reducing littering.
  3. The Millennial audience resonated with the campaign hashtag, #DontbeTrashy. The term “Trashy” implies a negative self-image; and, the association with littering behavior is a pairing that brings about a feeling of regret. The hashtag did not fare as well with the Spanish speaking audience as the direct translation of the phrase into Spanish is a little stronger and does not have a similar cultural meaning.

We completed an additional round of behavioral observations in the District of Columbia to track the impact of the presence of campaign materials on littering behavior. The rate of littering behavior since the placement of materials in 2014 had a 31% reduction in littering behavior at the four target areas in wards 5, 6, 7 and 8.

Our work in the District continues with holding cleanups to remove the litter already on the streets and in parks. Daily, we prevent litter with our Litter Prevention Campaign materials and with every new post of litter makes its way into our Potomac.

If you would like to request the littering campaign in your area, e-mail us at [email protected].