I've never understood littering. I'd like to so I can know what do to reach those who do litter, but my response is usually going from 0-60 when I see it and get all flustered and make some passive/aggressive sweeping hand gesture. It's not the most effective reaction and certainly turns people off from talking about why they litter. I'm working on it.
I did ask a guy next to me in a car one time why he threw something out the window (NOT RECOMMENDED!!!!!). His response was "Who cares anyway?" as he drove off. My little heart deflated and my mouth hung open. But lots of people do care. I know I care. I wish I knew why some don't and I wish I know how to reach them.
It is a charged topic. I've never heard of anyone responding well to someone asking them why they litter, or telling them they dropped something (after an intentional drop of trash). It is usually met with anger. But where does this come from? Is it a sense of entitlement? Is it a "not in my backyard?" Is it because everyone else does it and you don't see others care so why should you? What about being raised in an area that is always strewn with litter - is that just what you know?
We try all different ways to get the message across about not littering. We know it will never fully go away but hopefully over the years, we've made 'some' dent in the trash being discarded out of car windows, illegally dumped over hillsides, in streams, over the side of a boat, or just simply throwing it on the ground.
But I feel like we are missing the mark. Missing the bigger picture. Missing the social construct of why people litter. I was raised not to litter and was surrounded by those that never did so it's just a part of who I am. But why aren't others? This is not meant to shame in any way. I'm curious. Very curious. Perhaps it's time we look at littering from a different angle, from many different angles.
Maybe we go into a community that is constantly strewn with litter and do a focus group? I don't know. I'd love to hear your ideas, thoughts, and creative process on how to reach those who litter.
Because I know, deep down, people do care. They must, right?
Blog author: Amy Roskilly, Conservation Education & Communications Manager