by:  Cathy Thomas

Litter control is not only an important issue to me but to this state and country.  Programs such as Keep America Beautiful and adopt-a-highway are designed to promote a clean environment by educating people and creating projects to help improve the environment (Keeping America Beautiful).  Growing up I learned the importance of having a clean environment.  It improves the quality of life, it increases your confidence level, and it makes you proud of your community.  I feel strongly about this issue because there are a lot of people who just do not care.  South Carolina has a goal of making people aware of the environment.  The state government has started a campaign called Palmetto Pride (Diane Marlow).  The promotion tactics that they use includes South Carolina officials and well-known people promoting beautification of the state.  I also have a goal of making people aware of the environment and I decided that creating a project with children would be very effective.

 I always thought children were excellent people to work with.  They are eager to learn and to show enthusiasm.  My plan was to work with the children of St. Lawrence’s Place.  That idea was sparked from my University 101 instructor.  There I hoped to design a trash-pickup program similar to the one that the adopt-a-highway program had.  Along with the program, I would have educated the children about litter prevention and the importance of a clean environment.  Instead of walking along a highway collect trash we would wander around St. Lawrence’s Place looking for trash and items to be recycled.  Unfortunately, the program could not be carried out because of scheduling problems.  Luckily, there was an adopt-a-highway project going on in my hometown during the time of fall break.  Adopt-a-highway is a program of public service for volunteers to collect trash along the highways of America.  The group agrees to pick up trash at the minimum of three times per year.  There is an age limit for this program.  Those that are interested must be at least twelve years of age to participate in the trash pick-up.  The adopt-a-highway program also educates people about litter prevention and recycling (Adopt-a-highway).

 On October 15, I arrived on Main Street with some of my friends and former classmates.  Main Street is a very busy road that connects to a highway.  We began early that morning walking back and collecting trash.  Traffic was very heavy and we tried our best not to be hit by any passing motorists.  Other people were passing by staring at us.  I thought that they would offer to help because it was only about twelve of us trying our best to cleanup a major road but they did not offer any help at all.  I was getting frustrated and tired.  We continued to pick up trash and the two hours that we were out there seemed like five.  The end of the trash pick up was near an end but then a huge truck came racing by.  Someone from the truck threw out a black bag of garbage.  The bag hit the ground spilling trash everywhere.  I was upset and outraged that we spent our morning cleaning the road and then someone came along and tried to destroy it.  One of the main reasons why people litter is because they do not feel a sense of ownership of the property.  Secondly, they see trash that is already there and think that another piece of trash will not matter.  The third and most common reason is that they believe someone will come and pick up after them (Keep America Beautiful).  All of our spirits were dampened, but we went over to the trash and started collecting it.  Looking back, I am now glad that I went over to pick up the spilt trash because in my research I found that trash accumulates over time.  While it is accumulating it also takes it a long time to decompose.  The life span of trash follows:

Orange/Banana Peels 2-5 weeks
Cotton rag  1-5 months
Cigarette butt  1-5 years
Wool clothing  1-5 years
Plastic paper  5 years
Plastic bag  10-20 years
Painted wood  13 years
Nylon fabric  30-40 years
Leather   > 50 years
Rubber sole  50-80 years
Aluminum cans  200-500 years
Glass bottles  Approx. 1 million years
Source: California Waste Management

As the table showed, trash would be around for a long period and most of these items can be found in any household.  Household trash is one of seven primary sources of litter.  Other primary sources are dumpsters, construction sites, uncovered trucks, motorists, loading docks, and pedestrians. 

 Another organization that I worked with was Campus Clean Up.  On the day of Campus Clean Up organizations throughout campus would adopt an area on campus and spend two hours and thirty minutes cleaning the particular area.  The organization that I worked with was the Association of African American Students.  That organization was filled with very interesting people and working with them was fun.
 From working with both of these organizations, I learned that in order to decrease litter one must try to empower others to take responsibility for their community.  Learning about litter prevention, beautification, and revitalization can lead the way in protecting and preserving the environment while enhancing the quality of life.  Will I do this again?  I would like to do more volunteer work but in a different field.  In the future I would like to work with children.  I am better at tutoring children than picking up trash.


Acohido, Byron.  “Arizona City Inventories Litter.” Lexis-Nexis. 07 Aug. 2000.

Black, Tom.  “After the Good Times Roll: Cleaning up When the Party is Over.”  American City and Council v112 p. 58-59 (1998).

Marlow, Diane.  “Sweeping South Carolina.”  State Wide Cleanup Initiative 28 Oct. 2000.

Keeping America Beautiful Home Page.  28 Oct. 2000

Shuttlesworth, Dorothy Edwards.  Litter, the Ugly Enemy: An Ecology Story/ 1st Ed.  Garden City, NY 1973.

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