INDIANAPOLIS — You're driving down the road, and you see the car in front of you carelessly throw an open bag of trash out their window.
They seem careless of where it will end up or its lasting impact on the environment as a whole, but, more immediately, the community.
It's a less than sobering scene to witness for Jenny Jones, whose literal job is to help keep Indianapolis clear of litter.
"It just hurts my heart," Jones, the director of communications for "Keep Indianapolis Beautiful" (KIB), said.
In an interview with WRTV, Jones explained littering is a split-second decision that has a years-long impact.
"It really upsets me because I know that, that litter journey, it's a long journey, and it ends up in places where it shouldn't and doesn't need to be and just those little steps that you can take to decide, 'Hey, I'm not going to litter.' It makes a big difference," Jones said.
Some of us know people who litter, perhaps a family member, a loved one, or a friend. They throw their fast food bag, a wrapper, and napkins out of their car window without a second thought of where the trash might end up.
We've all heard the same retorts: "I pay taxes." "An empty cup or cigarette butt isn't going to hurt." "It's for the birds." "I'm giving the city something to do."
And on and on and on.
Jones says the biggest thing is educating your friends and family. Then, take the little steps in your own life to be a model for them.
Here are a few statistics from a 2021 study released by Keep America Beautiful:
- Nearly 50 billion pieces of litter end up along roadways each year. Motorists account for almost half of that litter.
- Cigarette butts are the biggest problem, with 90% of all cigarette butts becoming litter, taking up to 10 years to decompose.
- Litter can get into storm drains and groundwater.
- Litter impacts the soil and waterways and is toxic to plants.
"Wind and weather, traffic, animals: They all move litter into gutters, lawns, landscaped areas, alleyways, parking structures," Jones explained. "It creates problems for businesses and creates problems for homeowners."
When statistics don't work, however, KIB hopes it helps to meet people where they're at.
Because 90% of cigarette butts become litter, for instance, Keep America Beautiful sent out portable ashtrays to all affiliate locations to hand out to smokers.
Jones admits it was weird at first and felt like they were promoting smoking in a state the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is going through a "tobacco epidemic." Then she realized small steps can lead to more significant systemic changes.
"I think that it's just meeting people where they are, and you can't expect to change things overnight," Jones said.
Laws on littering
Again, I ponder, you're driving down the road and see someone throwing their trash out the window—what can you do at that exact moment?
Unfortunately, not much.
Indiana has a couple of laws to steer Hoosiers from throwing trash out of their vehicles.
However, enforcing these laws is tricky because you have to be caught in the act by an officer.
If someone is caught littering from a moving vehicle, Indiana Code 35-45-3-2 states they can face a Class B infraction and a fine of up to $1,000. In addition, court-ordered penalties could include litter cleanup or community service.
Throwing burning material from a moving vehicle, such as a cigarette butt, is an even bigger fine of $10,000. If you're caught.
So, what can you do?
KIB collected over half a million pounds of litter in 2021.
Jones says they're doing what they can, but it's more about individuals doing their part as well. She says there are a few musts to make a positive impact.
First of all, don't litter.
Then, Jones says, start picking up litter when you see it. Perhaps if you're on a walk or going somewhere, grab at least one piece.
According to Keep America Beautiful, if every single person in the United States picked up 152 pieces of litter on the same day, all of the country's debris would be gone.
"You can't always affect other people's actions, but you can try to educate them and do what you can on your own," Jones said.
Here are eight things you can do to reduce the littering impact, according to KIB's "A Little Love:"
- Bag loose trash
- Pick up one piece of trash
- Use heavy trash pickup days
- Properly dispose of cigarette butts
- Use Toxdrop locations
- Re-use whenever possible
- Keep a litter bag in your car
- Carry it with you
Those interested in volunteering, adopting a block, or learning more about KIB can visit kibi.org.
WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.