How to Pick up Litter

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." --Margaret Mead

In addition to making places look ugly, litter presents a threat to wildlife and public health. Pitching in and cleaning up some trash is an easy way for anyone to help out. Read this useful article to find out how you can help!


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    Stop littering yourself. You have no entitlement to litter. The reason there is so much trash around is because many other people thought the same way. Just be on the lookout for trash bins, and be willing to hold on to your trash for a little while. When on the road, make sure items in the back of your truck are secure and nothing can blow out. Keep your truck bed clean and free of loose litter. If you own a business, keep your parking lot and the area around your dumpsters clean. Have trash containers available for customers. Keep them emptied so trash will not blow out of the containers. On windy days, litter can travel a long way from the litter source.
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    Buy food items with less packaging and eat less processed or manufactured food. Pack your own lunch in containers that can be reused. Drink water or other beverages from your own container. Spend money on some really wonderful tasting fruit rather than a packaged snack or dessert.
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    Spread the word to friends and relatives about why littering is so bad. Don't hand out fliers because those could become litter themselves! Create awareness by writing letters to the editors of newspapers. Talk "Trash" and emphasize how litter mars the beauty of the cities and countryside. Encourage citizens to work together and clean up the environment.
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    Start cleaning up. This can be done solo, with friends or in an organized group. Once you get started, you will not want to quit. Getting started is the hardest part. Don't be embarrassed to do it alone. Believe me, it will make you feel really good about yourself. Pick up litter while getting your walking exercise. A lot of people think picking up litter is disgusting and degrading. Litter is what is disgusting and degrading. If everyone would do a little to keep the environment clean, it would make a world of difference. Bring a plastic bag with you on trips, outings and walks.
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    If solo: You can pick up litter on the way to work or school if you don't drive.' You may feel embarrassed if this is uncommon in your area. But you will eventually inspire others. You could occasionally take different routes for variety and to see if your actions have taken root with others.'Unless you have become friendly with the owners of private properties, only pick up what is on sidewalks of houses. Even if the owners or tenants are messy, it is private property. Be aware that even just picking up litter from sidewalks may only encourage the owners or tenants to continue or possibly increase their littering. You could strike up a friendly conversation and gently but firmly educate owners and tenants about the consequences of littering. Do not become self-righteous, pushy or angry -- you will lose points for sure. Try some humor instead.
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    If with others: gather up a group of friends for an informal litter picking party. Have participants meet somewhere afterward for a meal or have all bring food for a potluck afterward at your home.
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    Suggest to a group you belong to, that cleaning up area on an afternoon might be a worthwhile community service activity. Pick an area near a restroom if possible. Keep the area of the project small or the time frame with in an hour. Otherwise people may become soured about how much time or work it took. Have a contest to see who can pick up the the largest number of pieces or the most pounds of trash. Or the most unusual trash. The winner gets a free beverage, cloth bag, or other prize. (See if a local merchant will donate a prize.)


  • Pick up litter before the grass is mowed. It's much easier to pick up an item in one piece and it makes the roadside look so pretty after it is mowed.
  • Don't get discouraged on the first clean up. It's much easier to keep an area clean by picking up the litter often.
  • Get an early start. Don't let the temperature fool you. During the warm months, even when the temperature is in the 70's, the sun bearing down on you in the middle of the day is very hot.
  • Picking up cigarette butts may help make smoking look less popular. Also, smokers may notice. (Take Action to Phase out Smoking in Society)
  • Don't listen to what anybody says that is meant to offend you. If people gossip and laugh at you behind your back for helping the environment, get some friends or a group to help you; this will help stop them from being mean.
  • Always wear gloves when you clean up litter.


  • Hypodermic needles, can lids or other sharp objects could cause a nasty infection.
  • Mosquitoes, sunburn, and dehydration in warmer weather and frostbite in cooler weather.
  • Fire ants. Watch where you step. Fire ant hills are large mounds of dirt. You will not see the ants unless the mound is disturbed. Then watch out!
  • Unfriendly roaming dogs.

Things You'll Need

  • All of the following items may not be needed depending on your situation:
  • Trashbag(s) or smaller plastic bags combined in sets of twos or threes. Fold trash bags to carry in pockets.
  • Water or warm beverages -- to prevent dehydration especially in warmer weather or to keep warm.
  • Hand Sanitizer -- if not using gloves and for cleaning hands.
  • Paper towels and water can wash your hands.
  • Sunscreen
  • Mosquito Repellent
  • Small first aid kit. Cuts happen.
  • Heat packs -- to keep warm. The down side is some cannot be reused but the ingredients are generally earth friendly.
  • Sunglasses
  • Gloves -- gardening or other heavy gloves to prevent infection from possible cuts or skin punctures.
  • Good sturdy shoes with tread to keep you from slipping.
  • Safety vest or bright shirt to be easily seen.
  • Hat or sun visor
  • Pocket knife for cutting balloons/strings tied to sign posts and bottle opener for opening full bottles.
  • Layers of clothing -- removable layers are always essential.
  • Cell phones to talk to team mates if you split up; need more supplies or have an emergency.
  • Reach Extenders for picking up litter. Saves your back and well worth the price.
  • Camera for before/after pictures.
  • A simple way to hold your bag open while working: Find a stick that’s about 1 foot (0.3 m) long and 1 inch (2.5 cm) round. Place stick on the outside of bag, a few inches from the top. Fold the bag over the stick a few times. Hold the bag by the stick!
  • Make a bag holder to pick up litter. See instructions at:
  • A 5 gallon (18.9 L) bucket works well for picking up litter if it's not windy.
  • A large wooden embroidery ring can be used to hold bags open. Place the bag through the inner loop and lap over the side about 2–3 inches (5.1–7.6 cm). Put the outer ring over it and tighten clamps. Rest bag on your hip.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Pollution Prevention