“Don’t be a litterbug! Did you know you could report people who litter? CALL 1-888-Litterbug”
— operated by Pennsylvania Resources Council and funded by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
When people think of enforcement they too often think of the police or other government agencies. It is true that we need more enforcement of existing litter laws from those groups, but the best enforcement for something like this comes from friends, coworkers, and family. If you know someone who litters, tell them openly how you feel about it.
If they start to rationalize, direct them to this site and say that you think they’ll be interested in the information here. Chances are they don’t want to be contributing to the litter problem and they just need a gentle (or not so gentle) confirmation that cigarettes are indeed one of the worst forms of litter.
If you see a stranger litter, it is important to make the litterer aware that you have noticed and that you take exception. Otherwise, the litterer mistakenly interprets your non-action as approval. Dealing with these situations is always awkward, but you will feel better making your voice heard.
There is no right or wrong way to approach a litterer. Do it in a way that is comfortable for you. We do suggest, however, a non-confrontational approach that makes the litterer receptive to your message. Demanding the litterer pick up his cigarette is unlikely to yield the desired results. Messages that are preachy or condescending are also unlikely to be effective.
It is almost always best to give the litterer the benefit of the doubt. Instead of assuming they are lazy, ignorant, and selfish, assume they are very thoughtful, respectful people who don’t have all the facts. Imagine for a moment that you see a report on the news that indicates a particular lawn care product is toxic to pets. You then notice that your friend, who has several pets, is using that product. You probably wouldn’t assume your friend is cruel to animals, but rather that he or she hadn’t heard the report. You probably wouldn’t feel at all awkward sharing that information with your friend.
The same approach can be effective with cigarette litter. When you see a stranger litter their cigarette, try picking up the butt in their view and saying “Excuse me sir/ma’am, I’m going to throw this away for you because littered cigarettes are bad for the environment and they pose a fire hazard.” This type of approach does not invite an argument and typically elicits a sheepish “OK, thanks” from the litterer. Sometimes the litterer will question the assertion or ask for more information, which is a perfect opportunity to direct them to this site.
Please share your experiences with us. What works and what doesn’t? Do you have a friend that simply refuses to stop littering? Tell us!