Every Litter Bit

One of the more memorable slogans to come from the anti-litter campaigns produced by Keep America Beautiful in the1960s, “Every Litter Bit Hurts” has been adopted and adapted by cities and towns for more than half a century.

While it has not deterred the careless from continuing to toss trash from their cars, the sheer volume of waste material discarded along the road has shrunk. With that decrease, the number of anti-litter public service announcements in the media has dwindled to a modest few. But the litterbugs have not gone away.

Today, the difference is the kind of stuff thrown out of car windows or casually dropped by pedestrians.

During its heyday, Keep America Beautiful’s messages concentrated on discarded plastic and cigarette butts because everything came in plastic and everybody smoked.

Public service ad from 1971 connecting litter to pollution

Roadside garbage was ugly and a drag on shared national aspirations to build a future filled with gleaming cities and tidy suburbs. Piling up along newly built Interstate highways and busy urban thoroughfares, litter was associated with blight and not acceptable for a nation leading the way into space. From that point, connecting litter to pollution was an easy step.

The television and radio anti-litter announcements were a huge success. Once Americans were shamed into not littering and using ashtrays, the message was easily expanded into prodding consumers to recycle with the larger aspiration of saving the planet.

Today, Keep American Beautiful is as much a part of the establishment as a branch bank, city hall, a coffee shop or Earth Day dot org.

What is different today is how we consider what being outside means. The pandemic dropped on us a layer of selfishness and casual disregard for the impact of tossing stuff out the window on a familiar street. The other difference is since only a few addicts and surly teenagers smoke anymore, it is unlikely you will find more than three butts on any one-block stretch of sidewalk.

What you will find on a casual stroll through the neighborhood are discarded paper facemasks, fast food wrappers, empty liquor mini-bottles, empty energy-drink cans and plastic grocery bags, lots of plastic grocery bags.

You would think that with all the plastic grocery bags tumbling down the street, at least some would be used to pick up the dog crap.