Not all litter is littered: An exploration of unintentional means of public waste generation.

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Historically, studies have equated the presence of litter to the act of littering; however, the results of a disposal behaviour analysis suggest that the connection is not as straightforward. In this study the concept of polite littering was established, where if there are no means for disposal, litter is placed neatly in creative spaces in lieu of actively littering. As common perception towards littering is that it is done in a flagrant and untidy way, in the act of polite littering, individuals negotiate their actions as non-contributory. Ultimately, the study found that methods of polite and accidental littering accounted for 63% of all observed non-cigarette littering events. Second, the identification of vermin dispersal furthers the disparity between the presence of litter and the act of littering. The influence of animals in distributing waste that had previously been binned falsely attributes human behaviour to litter generation, and leads to misplaced mitigation efforts. To address the contribution of polite and accidental littering, it is suggested that a rebranding of the term and legislation of littering is crucial to include both intentional and unintentional acts, that product packaging design integrate characteristics that lead to packaging being less easy to misplace and that bin placement take into consideration needs of the end user. Additionally, structural and mechanical approaches such as bin design and proactive cleansing schedules that consider the influence of vermin dispersal would lead to significant litter reduction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100756
JournalEnvironmental Challenges
Early online date23 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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