Turning a new leaf: 11 inspiring initiatives in the battle against park littering.
Parks play a vital role in overall planetary ecology. They’re crucial in urban areas, allowing residents to enjoy the multiple health benefits of getting out in nature. Additionally, their trees and plant life provide rich oxygen and help reduce climate change. However, littering can make these shared spaces less pleasant to visit.
It’s also harmful to the environment. Litter causes pollution by leaking toxic chemicals into the air, soil and water, endangers animal life, and facilitates disease spread.
What are people doing to address the problem? Here are 11 inspiring initiatives in the battle against park littering that can help these facilities turn over a new leaf.
1. Washington’s Simple as That Campaign
People often flock to parks in the Pacific Northwest during the summer to beat the oppressive heat. The result is a lot of litter. To combat it, the state’s Department of Ecology recently launched its “Simple as That” campaign to address trash that departing travelers often toss from car windows. It takes a three-step approach to solving the problem, encouraging citizens and visitors to:
- Keep a litter bag in your car: It’s easier to pack out what you pack in if you have a place for your trash.
- Keep it in your car until you reach a disposal site: Even if you leave the bag at the campsite entrance, someone has to pick it up — and such spots often lack access for garbage trucks.
- Encourage others to live litter free: Ask your friends and family to follow similar good habits when visiting.
2. Wabash Valley’s Trash Receptacle Awareness
Picking up your trash when you use an area park is one thing. Disposing of it is another. Who wants to share their car with smelly garbage while searching for a bin?
Wabash Valley, Pennsylvania, takes a seven-step approach to encourage visitors to do their part in the battle against park littering, starting with the obvious — including adding more bins within park boundaries. Additionally, the initiative includes:
- Positioning containers for ease of use
- Adding cigarette and recycling bins attached to traditional trash
- Incorporating signage
- Using bright colors
- Keeping bins covered to prevent animals from pilfering the contents and spewing litter around in their wake.
3. Biopack’s Innovative Packaging
What if it was safe to bury litter in the ground? Biopack wants to realize such a vision with its innovative packaging that transforms into plants with a little TLC.
While you won’t want to toss this packaging anywhere, it contains legume seeds in the mix. Add it to your garden to enjoy homegrown, organic goodness.
4. Wake Forest’s Show Some Love Initiative
Everyone uses community parks, meaning it’s everyone’s responsibility to help keep them clean. Wake Forest, North Carolina’s “Show Some Love” campaign encourages residents to make behavioral changes to maintain pristine conditions.
The town advertises the program through banners and yard signs. Additionally, it added the logo to its email signature and included it on government vehicles.
5. Takoma Park’s Seasonal Litter Cleanups
Takoma Park, Maryland, hosts regular cleanups addressing littering in parks, watersheds and other shared natural spaces. School groups from kindergarten through university level often participate, and several local organizations have regularly scheduled efforts to keep these areas clean and green.
Additionally, the Adopt-a-Spot program gives concerned citizens supplies for keeping a designated area litter-free. It rewards their efforts with a sign — a great way for small businesses to build name recognition.
6. New York City’s Updated Anti-Littering Campaign
You might think of New York City as synonymous with litter. However, it takes its parks seriously. There are over 1,700 parks throughout the metro area. The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation updated anti-littering campaign budgets for installing multiple new trash cans and distributing garbage bags to park-goers to encourage them to dispose of refuse properly.
7. Ruidoso’s Toss No Mas Initiative
Small towns also do a lot in the battle against park littering. The City of Ruidoso, New Mexico, implemented its “Toss No Mas” anti-litter campaign with a cleanup in 2022. What sets it apart is the opportunity for youth groups and sports leagues to earn extra cash, as the city pays $10 per kid for a group of 10 or more who participate in the cleanup effort. City planners envision more such events in the future.
8. Volusia Trail and Beach Cleanups
Florida sees a lot of tourists who often litter area parks and beaches. Volusia calls upon residents to help, especially after major holidays that increase traffic. The Keep Volusia Beautiful campaign conducts seasonal cleanups of area beaches and trails, providing trash bags and roving carts to facilitate collection.
9. Illinois DOT’s Think Before You Throw Program
Illinois also sees considerable tourist traffic, thanks to the city of Chicago. The Department of Transportation estimates it spent $26.5 million removing litter and cleaning up large debris. The city’s “Think Before You Throw” campaign aims to lower that figure by raising awareness of the negative impact littering has on residents and visitors.
10. National Parks Service’s Don’t Feed the Landfills Campaign
Some initiatives in the battle against park littering take place at the national, not the state or local, level. The National Parks Service is responsible for keeping these natural resources clean and safe for visitors and wildlife alike.
Their “Don’t Feed the Landfills” campaign seeks to directly address park littering by teaming up with Subaru. Since its inception in 2015, the pilot program has kept 16 million pounds of waste from Yosemite, Denali and Grand Teton national parks out of landfills by making it easier for visitors to sort recycling.
The program consists of brightly labeled recycling containers strategically located throughout the parks. It also encourages using reusable items instead of single-use cans and bottles.
11. The Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention Program
Cigarettes are the No. 1 littered items in parks and roadways throughout America. What’s worse is the filters consist of plastic cellulose that doesn’t biodegrade. That butt will still resemble its current form hundreds of years from now.
The Keep America Beautiful Cigarette Litter Prevention campaign targets this trash wherever it appears. The initiative involves nationwide affiliate organizations placing 5,000 litter stands for this waste in communities. It couples this effort with education to encourage proper cigarette butt disposal. Interested partner organizations can apply for one of these grants.
Keeping It Clean
Litter is a severe problem in America’s parks. It harms the environment in several ways while making these public spaces less pleasant to use.
However, local and national efforts are coordinating to wage a battle against park littering. Get involved in one of these efforts or contact your local parks and recreation department to participate in positive change.