University of California Riverside Study Highlights Sources of Roadside Waste

Researchers from the University of California at Riverside have found that the bulk of roadside rubbish comes from places less than two miles away from the spot they are located.



The team said that garbage on the roadside originates mostly from local sources. It came to this conclusion after collecting and examining litter from several Inland Empire locations for a month.

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“A lot of people say, ‘it’s not my trash,’” said study first author Win Cowger, an environmental scientist at the University of California, Riverside. “I want to dispel that notion with the evidence we have, at least here in the Inland Empire.”

The study, which appeared in Environmental Research, shows the need for concerted effort to control roadside litter more effectively.

Litter source

There has been a theory that suggests that roadside trash could be from far-away places. This was based on the idea that factors, such as wind and water, move rubbish through urban areas.

The current study represents the first successful attempt to refute that theory. It shows that humans are mostly responsible for litter making their way to the roadside.

For the research, 18 student volunteers from UC Riverside that were taught data collection gathered trash from the roadside several times a week in some Inland Empire areas.

The research team observed that the bulk of trash collected was plastic – almost 60 percent. Most of the plastic materials were used for food products, with tobacco products coming second.

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The researchers even gave names of some manufacturers whose products were seen most in collected trash. Leading producers include Philip Morris, Mars Incorporated, and RJ Reynolds.

In addition, the team was able to find out the places where some of the items were bought. This was made possible by the receipts that they also found.

The conclusion from the findings was that roadside rubbish mostly comes from local sources. Put differently, junk items are commonly found only a little distance away from where they are bought.

Urgent preventive action is necessary

Findings in this study could aid in ridding urban areas of plastic waste that can impact air and water quality adversely. Action is urgently required to combat this threat.

Plastics are capable of releasing unsafe chemicals into the environment and reducing aesthetic allure. Harmful chemicals that they discharge can penetrate nearby soil and find their way into both surface water and groundwater. Plastic waste poses considerable threats to human and animal health.

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A key takeaway from this research is that human behavior is to blame for roadside rubbish. This needs to change, even if it must be forced.

For instance, researchers made sure to gather up waste on each visit to the sites they covered. But they were met by the same amount of trash on their next visit.

The researchers said that human behavior alone cannot be blamed for this unhealthy phenomenon. Policymakers and manufacturers also need to play a key role in keeping litter items off the streets.

“There has been a lot of emphasis on individual human behavior as the way to decrease rates of littering,” said study author Andrew Gray. “In reality, it’s just as easy or even more accurate to say that if we didn’t produce the stuff in the first place, it wouldn’t get into the environment.”

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Among other actions, the researchers suggested that cities should employ preventative measures such as bans to guard against roadside litter. This was based on their finding that implied street sweeping alone will not work.

The team is planning to carry out more studies in Long Beach and Oregon to better grasp how rubbish makes it to roadsides as well as how to approach cleaning.

Cowger is also trying to develop a universal trash survey terminology index, which is currently lacking. This will help to make better sense out of studies, such as this one, that use different terms for the same thing. The expectation is that this would make the causes and effects of global trash clearer.


Litter origins, accumulation rates, and hierarchical composition on urban roadsides of the Inland Empire, California



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