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The State Of Littering In Texas

June 23, 2010

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) commissioned two studies to gather updated information about litter in Texas:

  • Litter Attitudes and Behaviors (LA&B), a statewide telephone and online survey of Texans conducted in December 2009 by Stadia Marketing Research.
  • Visible Litter Study (VLS), an analysis of litter and accumulation on Texas roadsides conducted November 2008 – May 2009 by NuStats International.
Overall Findings: A Lot Less Big Litter, A Lot More Butts
  • Large items such as food-related trash decreased from 29 percent of the litter total in 2005 to 7 percent in 2009. (VLS) Reducing this type of litter keeps drivers safer and impacts the environment positively because 80 percent of litter in oceans, rivers and lakes originated on land.
  • Approximately 1.1 billion pieces of litter accumulated in 2009 on the Texas-maintained highway system. While litter increased 33 percent since 2005 (827 million items), it decreased by 11 percent since 2001 (1.237 billion items). (VLS)
  • Cigarette butts are mainly to blame for the increase in litter on Texas roads. Tobacco trash, including nearly 400 million cigarette butts, made up 43 percent of the 1.1 billion pieces of trash calculated to litter Texas roads in 2009. (VLS)
  • According to new research, smokers who litter cigarette butts are more likely than non-smokers to litter other items. Sixty-two percent of smokers admit they or someone they were with threw butts out the window of a vehicle. (LA&B)
  • Since 1998, age has been the key predictor of littering behavior in Texas. New research indicates that Texans ages 16 to 34 are most likely to litter. (LA&B)
  • A common characteristic of many litterers is their belief that environmental issues are blown out of proportion. (LA&B)
  • wareness of the Don’t Mess with Texas campaign remains high at 95 percent. (LA&B)
  • More Texans than ever now know what ‘Don’t Mess with Texas’ means. Eight out of 10 (82 percent) Texans know the slogan means don’t litter. In 2007, only 68 percent knew what it meant. (LA&B)
2009 Visible Litter Study

NuStats conducted this roadside litter analysis for TxDOT as part of a study conducted every four years assessing the types and quantity of litter along Texas roads. NuStats analyzed 163 segments of road, each 1,000 feet long. In 2005, 129 sites consisting of a 750-foot-long stretch of roadway were sampled. Data from the current study were weighted for comparison with those from 2005.


In addition to the highlights under Overall Findings, the following are results from the Visible Litter Study.

Litter Category 2009 2005

Tobacco 43% 33%

Non-alcoholic Beverage Cups/Cans 13% 11%

Construction (insulation, lumber) 10% 8%

Household/Personal 9% 4%

Automotive 7% 1%

Food Packaging 7% 29%

Alcoholic Beverage Containers 6% 6%

Printed (newspapers, lottery tickets) 4% 8%

009 Litter Attitudes and Behaviors Survey

Stadia Marketing Research conducted the survey on behalf of TxDOT in December of 2009. The Litter Attitudes and Behaviors study is conducted every two years to gauge the opinions, attitudes, and behaviors of Texans related to littering. A total of 1,255 Texas residents were surveyed via an online questionnaire or telephone interview. The sample was designed to represent the state both demographically and geographically.


In addition to the highlights mentioned under Overall Findings, the following are findings from the new Litter Attitudes and Behaviors Study.

Texans are messing with Texas
  • Four in 10 (42 percent) Texans admit to littering either accidentally or on purpose in the past month.
  • More than half the admitted litterers (54 percent) said they littered while driving. The other reasons they gave for littering were: not able to find a trash can (22 percent) and while walking or playing outside (18 percent).
Even if it’s small, it’s still a big problem
  • 45 percent of Texans think small pieces of paper are a minor litter problem.
  • 4 More than half (52 percent) of tobacco litterers think that cigarette butts are a minor litter problem.
Parents, teach your children well
  • Half (50 percent) of Texans who littered in the past month say they saw their parents litter.
  • Almost all parents (93 percent) say they’ll stop littering if their children ask them to.
Why There’s More Litter
  • Average Daily Traffic (ADT) counts on the sampled roads rose 9 percent overall from 2003 to 2007. The Visible Litter Study shows a clear connection between traffic volume and amount of litter on the road; more traffic=more litter.
  • The Texas population grew 7.8 percent from 2004 to 2008, and the number of people of legal driving age grew 4.6 percent to nearly 18 million.
  • TxDOT is responsible for more roads. According to the 2007 Certified Annual Reports of the TxDOT Transportation Planning and Programming Division, TxDOT is responsible for maintaining more than 80,067 miles of roadway. This represents 1,132,881 acres of right-of-way.
  • While the amount spent to pick up Texas litter rose from $38.7 million in 1986 to $47 million in 2009, the cost per capita decreased from $2.33 per Texan in 1986 to $1.90 in 2009.
What Texas Is Doing About Litter

Texas spent $47 million in 2009 to pick up litter and administered these prevention tactics:

  • Don’t Mess with Texas is developing a new litter prevention outdoor and convenience store advertising campaign to run during the busy summer travel months.
  • The Don’t Mess with Texas outreach tour is targeting Texans at outdoor summer events all over the state.
  • Don’t Mess with Texas released a new public service announcement (PSA) featuring George Strait telling Texans not to litter.
  • Don’t Mess with Texas is seeking partnerships with companies that can help with litter prevention.
  • A litter-fighting team of superheroes called the Litter Force travels from school to school in an effort to stop littering habits before they start.
  • A scholarship program offers incentive to high schoolers solving litter problems in their communities.
  • Don’t Mess with Texas organizes Trash-Off ⎯ the single largest one-day cleanup event in the state.
Reasons to Keep Your Butts in the Car
  • TxDOT cleans up only the litter big enough to see from your car because it’s too expensive to target all litter. That’s why it’s up to Texans to keep their cigarette butts off the road.
  • Cigarette filters take 18 months to 10 years to decompose. The cellulose acetate fibers in cigarette filters, like other plastics, are not biodegradable.
  • Butts are toxic. A recent New York Times article reported experiments that showed one butt has enough poisons to kill half the minnows in a liter of water — a standard laboratory test for toxins — in 96 hours.

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