Littering behaviour

When, how and why people litter is influenced by factors such as location, what other convenient disposal options there are, the item they want to dispose of, and whether they are alone or in groups. Anyone can be a litterer, but BIEC's Littering Behaviour Study 2004 gives some guide to the more likely suspects, depending on circumstances and setting.  

This study was used to identify the influence of site features, demographic patterns, usage and consumption patterns on actual disposal behaviours - both positive and negative. A summary is below:

Who litters?

  • Young people are more likely to litter when they are in a group.
  • Older people are more likely to litter when alone.
  • Men litter more than women.
  • Women use bins more than men.
  • In a group of ten people in a public place, three will litter and seven will do the right thing.
  • More smokers will litter their butts than use a bin.
  • People are more likely to litter in an already littered or unkempt location.
  • The most common reasons for littering are "too lazy" (24%), "no ashtray" (23%) or "no bin" (21%).
  • Less than one third of older people who were seen littering admitted their behaviour when questioned.

Why they litter

  • Unaware - Littering is not always a deliberate act, and may result from uncertainty as to who is responsible for disposal, or just viewing their littering as an inconsequential thing to do. For instance, householders and businesses may dump at the front of their property, thinking it is the council's responsibility to clean it up.
  • Careless - Some people litter because it is too much trouble for them to do otherwise, or litter is something they simply don't think about.
  • Convenience is often the driving factor here, hence well located and designed disposal units and bins have a good chance of improving behaviours.
  • Premeditated - Individuals may be well aware that littering and dumping are illegal, but find it more convenient (and cheaper if not caught) to find a hidden dumping spot, or simply dispose of smaller litter items irresponsibly. Here, the thinking is that they are unlikely to be caught or shamed. Enforcement and education play a primary role in improving these behaviours.

How they litter

Researchers in Melbourne and Sydney have developed typologies for litterers - see Littering Behaviour Poster (opens in PDF 3.98MB)

Melbourne based social psychologists Community Change focused on littering by individuals, generally in public places, which gives clues about where litter is more likely to happen, and what the perpetrators might be doing at the time. They gave these types the following names:

  • Foul Shooting - Litter is thrown at but misses the bin - the person walks away.
  • Clean Sweeping - Litter left behind by others on the table gets swept onto the ground.
  • Flagrant Flinging - Without any apparent concern, litter is through into the air or simply dropped.
  • 90%ing / Dual Depositing - Most rubbish is put into a bin, but some is left behind.
  • Wedging - Stuffing pieces of litter into gaps, such as between seats.
  • Grinding - Smokers who grind their cigarettes into the ground.
  • Inching - Litter is left behind as the culprit slowly moves away from it.
  • Undertaking - Litter is buried, often under beach sand.
Taking a different approach to typifying litterers, the NSW Environmental Protection Authority identified five types of people.
  • Non litterers - These are environmentally conscious, don't litter and usually pick up others' litter.
  • Inconvenients - For them it's too hard, too much trouble, someone else's problem really.
  • Ignorants - These people are simply unaware of a link between the environment and their littering.
  • Wilful arrogants - Those who work out their own rules, e.g. "It's OK to litter in urban areas, but not in the bush".
  • Anti-establishments - They make a statement by littering purposefully.