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New Research: Food-Related Trash Down 76 Percent In Texas; Tobacco Trash Leads To Overall Litter Increase.

June 23, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — Tobacco trash is the culprit responsible for an increase in Texas roadside litter according to new research released today by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

While Texans are doing much better keeping larger food-related trash off the road, tobacco trash, including nearly 400 million discarded cigarette butts, made up 43 percent of Texas litter in 2009. Food-related items, which for years have been nearly tied with tobacco trash as the two most prevalent types of litter, have decreased by 76 percent ⎯ from 29 percent of overall litter in 2005 to 7 percent in the latest study.

“That’s positive news since food-related trash like to-go bags are far more visible on our roadsides than cigarette butts,” said TxDOT Travel Information Division Director Doris Howdeshell. “However, it’s just not acceptable to toss cigarette butts out the car window either.”

TxDOT’s Don’t Mess with Texas litter prevention campaign has focused on fast food litter for a decade with campaign tactics like printing the Don’t Mess with Texas logo on 2 million fast food cups and billboards reading “It’s Take-Out, Not Toss-Out.”

TxDOT commissions two studies to help measure and tackle the litter problem: the Visible Litter Study, conducted every four years, shows the amount and types of litter on Texas rights-of-way, and the Litter Attitudes and Behaviors Study, released every two years, reveals Texans’ littering behavior.

“The new Attitudes and Behaviors Study shows smokers who litter don’t think cigarette butts are a big problem, but they are wrong,” said Howdeshell. “Our research reveals smokers who litter are more likely to toss other items. You could say cigarettes are a ‘gateway litter’ to tossing bigger, more visible trash on our rights-of-way.”

More Research Findings

The Visible Litter Study shows tobacco trash is Texas’ leading type of litter, followed by non-alcoholic drink cups and cans, then construction debris, such as cardboard and plastic. Both studies also show:

  • 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). The study uses sample stretches of road to calculate litter totals. (2009 Visible Litter Study)
  • In the past two Visible Litter Studies, food-related items and tobacco were the most prevalent litter categories. Today, food-related litter (7 percent) falls behind tobacco (43 percent), non-alcoholic beverages (13 percent) and household-related (9 percent). (2009 Visible Litter Study)
  • Alcoholic beverage containers, such as beer cans may seem like a big trash problem, but they comprise just 6 percent of overall litter, followed only by printed material like newspaper and lottery tickets. (2009 Visible Litter Study)
  • The number of Texans who know “Don’t Mess with Texas” means “don’t litter” recently spiked by about 20 percent. Today, eight out of 10 (82 percent) Texans know what the slogan means compared to 71 percent in 2005. (2009 Litter Attitudes and Behaviors Study)
  • 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. However, a new category of litterer has emerged, indicating that, ironically, some of our worst litterers have great Texas pride. This group (24 percent of Texans) say they are filled with state pride and believe roadside litter makes Texans look bad. Ironically, these “Proud Texans” admit to littering more than people in other groups. (2009 Litter Attitudes and Behaviors Study)
  • TxDOT Tackles Cigarettes and More

    Six out of 10 Texas smokers admit they litter. That means 11 percent of Texans are to blame for nearly half (43 percent) of all litter. So what is Texas doing about it? TxDOT spent approximately $47 million in 2009 to pick up litter, but a growing population and more roads to take care of make prevention key to solving the problem.

    “Smokers are finding fewer places where they can light up, so we think their vehicles may be one of their last refuges,” said Howdeshell. “Don’t Mess with Texas never backs down from a challenge, so now we’re taking on tobacco trash in new and different ways, starting with our summer road tour.”

    The Don’t Mess with Texas summer outreach tour will take interactive games and the Texas Litter Cube (a chamber of swirling litter contestants try to stuff into a litterbag) to 20 big summer festivals and events like the Vans Warped Tour.

    Howdeshell says the campaign will also continue its focus on other litter items including beverage cups and “accidental” litter that flies out of pickup beds and car windows.

    In May, TxDOT released a new television PSA featuring country music legend George Strait, who reminds proud Texans “Don’t Mess with Texas means don’t litter.”

    TxDOT also has developed a new billboard and convenience store advertising campaign to target litterers close to the roads they travel. A new photo gallery at gives Texans a chance to show what the phrase means to them. They can e-mail photos of areas they’re helping keep clean, interesting roadside trash finds, or even just a snapshot of their favorite pair of cowboy boots. A litter-fighting team of superheroes called the Litter Force educates schoolchildren before the bad habit of littering can begin.

    About Don’t Mess with Texas

    Don’t Mess with Texas has been educating Texans about litter prevention since 1986. TxDOT’s litter prevention program includes Adopt-a-Highway and a grassroots partnership with Keep Texas Beautiful. Don’t Mess with Texas activities also include a spring “Trash-Off,” community outreach, a scholarship, a corporate partner program, and a photo album where Texans can share their iconic Texas images. For more information, visit Don’t Mess with Texas is a registered trademark of the Texas Department of Transportation. TxDOT’s goals are to prepare for the future, enhance safety, maintain the transportation system, relieve congestion, enhance connectivity, and work with partners to identify funding strategies. For more information, visit Fan us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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