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Louisiana spends more than $40 million a year to clean up our highways. In 2004 alone, state and
sheriff cleanup crews picked up an estimated 450,000 bags (20,000 miles) of trash in our state.
Whether accidental or deliberate, littering is against the law. Depending on the nature and severity of
the littering, you can face either civil or criminal prosecution. According to Louisiana R.S.30:25312531.3, penalties for conviction range from a $50 fine plus 8 hours community service picking up litter
to a $5,000 fine, one year driver’s license suspension, 30 days in jail AND 100 hours of community
service. The driver is responsible for all litter coming from the vehicle’s interior or truck bed, and the
driver can be cited for littering committed by the passengers in his/her vehicle. Along roadways,
motorists and pedestrians are the biggest contributors to litter.
Tobacco products, mostly cigarette butts, are the most littered item along Louisiana roadways.
Many individuals believe that cigarette butts are biodegradable. This is incorrect. While some parts
of the cigarette usually decompose in one year, other parts never do because the filter is made of a
type of acetate that never fully breaks down. Worst yet, the cigarette butt that is thrown on the ground
will eventually find its way into the ocean or some other body of water. A recent cleanup of coastal
shorelines by volunteers found that 80% of the collected litter was washed from land into the water.
Cigarettes and cigarette butts accounted for a whopping 25% of the total collected. Cigarettes and
cigarette butts also contain many harmful chemicals which leak into the environment. To many
people, a cigarette butt may seem like a small thing, but with several trillion butts discarded every
year, toxic chemicals add up, and the damage to the environment is multiplied many times over.
Another problem often seen is the litter from packaging and beverage containers. This includes fast
food, snacks, tobacco, or other product packaging, and soft drink and beer containers.
Storm drains are a trap for litter that collects from streets and sidewalks. These are located in gutters
and are designed to drain excess rainfall from paved streets and parking lots. Because storm drains
eventually lead to waterways, litter near storm drains can potentially contaminate our water. This
causes litter to first be a problem on land and then later in our water.
The presence of litter in a community takes its toll on the quality of life, property values, and housing
prices. Besides the environmental impact that litter imposes, there are also economic consequences.
Businesses pay about 80% of the cost to clean up litter with the government funding the remainder.
Many communities depend on volunteers to clean up litter. Research studies have shown that heavily
littered areas are more likely to be targeted for crime and vandalism. Individuals are more likely to
litter in a littered area. Once there, litter attracts more litter. This cycle continues unless and until we
change our minds about the way we think about litter.
Individual attitudes can change the way we think about litter. On average, one in every five individuals
is a litterer with most of the behavior being a conscious act. This includes dropping the item, flicking
or flinging it away, or just leaving it in on the ground, table, bench or ledge. Studies also show that
age, and not gender, is a significant factor in littering. Those under 30 are more likely to litter than
those who are older.