​Zack Hersh You and the World Blog Post 1

Litter Problems in Philadelphia and America

My name is Zack Hersh, and I am a freshman at Science Leadership Academy. This year in our English class, a large assignment we were given was to research a problem that interests us and become an agent for change related to that problem by taking action against that problem. The issue I will be discussing is litter.

I took an interest in this issue because it is very significant where I live and it has drastic effects on the environment. It is also an issue that has always been important to me and I wanted to help with this problem. 
Philadelphia is one of the dirtiest cities in the country. There is trash and cigarette butts almost everywhere you look. Not only is it unsightly and insanitary, it is terrible for the environment and the economy.
The number one driver of litter is flat out laziness. People are too lazy to hold on to their trash until they can dispose of it in a trash can. The number of trash cans is not the problem, however. There is at least 1 trash can on almost every city block. Instead of walking the extra 25 feet to dispose of their waste, they simply drop it on the ground.

However, it is not always out of laziness that people litter. Some people think that by littering, they are helping the economy. They say: “I’m creating a job for somebody. It can be somebody’s job to pick up the trash”.

In fact, they are doing the opposite. The national government spends more than 10 billion dollars each year on cleaning up litter. That for sure is not helping the economy. Imagine if the 50 billion pieces of litter that land on the streets and sidewalks every year weren’t there. Think of all the things the country so desperately needs money for that the annual litter- pick up budget could be spent on instead.

This all too commonplace debacle can have even more negative effects on the economy. Properties in a littered area lose some of their value and become worth less. People don’t want to buy properties as much in areas that are covered with litter. How do you think that affects the already struggling economy?

But that is far from the only problem with litter. The most common forms of litter are cigarette butts and fast food packaging. These items take an enormous amount of time just to decompose. And what do you think will happen when a cigarette butt decomposes? Imagine of all of the bad substances in them that would be released into the environment.


Litter has many more terrible effects on the environment and wildlife. Animals can die from the trash they eat that they may mistake for food. Debris can get trapped in the stomachs of small animals, blocking more food from getting in, and they can starve in result. 6 pack plastic rings can easily get tangled around bird’s and other small animals necks, choking them.

imgres 7.28.43 PM
imgres 7.28.43 PM

Not only that, but when litter that lies on the ground doesn’t get picked up, it can wash into sewers when storms come and pollute our waterways. Our water systems eventually lead back into rivers, which lead into the ocean. This can have devastating effects on river and oceanic wildlife and plants. Plus, it can take away from the natural beauty of the rivers and the ocean themselves. But we’re not through yet. Just one piece of litter can lead to hundreds more. Litter invites more litter. If somebody sees a spot with some litter, they may see it as okay to drop some trash there too. So even if the entire city works their butts off to clean up litter, just one soda can, one fast food bag, can bring it all back. The more litter there is somewhere, the more inviting it is for more people to litter there.

imgres-2 7.28.46 PM
imgres-2 7.28.46 PM

You are probably reading this and thinking: “Why would somebody even do that” or “Well I’m not like that”. The truth is, whether we realize it or not, we probably have all littered at some point- but even accidental litter is unacceptable. Trash in a car can easily fly out open car windows or doors. Or off the open backs of pickup trucks. Even something small and/ or accidental, even just dropping a piece of gum on the ground, is litter. Have you ever walked down the sidewalk and seen lots of black and gray, penny sized spots? That is all dropped pieces of chewing gum, and it may never decompose. What about throwing “biodegradable” things, such as apple cores, out the window? That helps the environment, that’s not litter, right? WRONG! While they will eventually turn into soil, in the meantime they are still litter; they are still an eyesore and can still invite more litter.

Even something simple such as leaving a house window open can lead to litter. In our society today, littering is much easier than people may think. And this is just the streets and sidewalks. Need I mention the sides of train tracks? How about the food court at the mall? Everywhere we look in our city is littered with garbage and debris.

What can we do about this very serious issue? We can pick up litter and instigate pick ups, but people are just going to keep littering. Raising awareness about the problem could be much more effective. We can be mindful of our accidental litter. If we see somebody littering, we can encourage them to take it to a trash can. If we know someone who litters, we could talk to them about the issues behind it.

Several organizations also exist to help prevent litter. Joining them or supporting them could help with the city’s and the country’s serious litter issue. For now, you, me, everyone, needs to raise awareness and help create a litter free future. 

For more general information click here to visit the Keep Philadelphia Beautiful's site. .
For more information on actions you can take, click here visit the Philly Streets Department website.
To watch a video on litter's effects on the environment, click here. The video is towards the bottom of the page.

To see my bibliography, click here.


Comments (4)

Zack Hersh (Student 2016)
Zack Hersh

As seen in picture 1, the top two most littered items ar cigarette butts and fast food wrappers. As seen in picture 2, the litter in the water is ugly and terrible for the river's ecosystem. As seen in picture 3, the bird is being choked by the plastic that comes on the top of 6 packs of beverages