In this short guide, we identify the most commonly littered items across society.
This guide compliments our separate guides about the most common types of waste found on beaches and in oceans, and the most common waste types found in landfills.
All of these guides might be useful in identifying the types of waste we need to be more mindful of if we are to address waste pollution more effectively as a society.
Summary – Most Commonly Littered Items In Society
Most Commonly Littered Materials & Items
Plastic items (plastic packaging waste, bottles, caps/lids, cutlery, straws, bags, and so on), and cigarette butts seem to be by far the most littered items found on land and on beaches.
Glass bottles and aluminum cans can be found at some cleanups too
In the ocean, plastic items are some of the most common types of litter found floating in the ocean
One river cleanup found mostly it’s cigarette butts and plastic items as littered items
Potential Reasons For Littering
Some of the most common reasons individuals litter might be laziness, lack of bins, lack of ashtrays, and grinding cigarette butts into the ground.
For businesses it may be different – it may be related to dumping being easier or cheaper. A lack of laws/regulations and enforcement of these laws may be further reasons for businesses.
In some countries, rubbish can escape unsecured and/or open dumping sites that aren’t contained properly.
So, a cause of waste pollution can be waste management systems that aren’t working as they should be i.e. securing and containing waste properly
This can be due to a range of reasons
Littering vs Mismanaged Waste
There’s a difference between littering and mismanaged waste
Littering is the purposeful disposal of waste by consumers or producers into the environment
Mismanaged waste on the other hand includes both (or is the sum of) littered waste, and also inadequately disposed of waste which escapes or leaks from landfills and dumping sites, or is ineffectively managed by some other type of waste management option
Our guide on the most common waste found on beaches and in the ocean includes waste that has been mismanaged
What Littered Items Are Found On Land, On Beaches, In Oceans, & In Rivers?
Beaches & Oceans
On World Clean Up Day, the top 10 items picked up by Ocean Conservancy Volunteers were:
1. Cigarette Butts
2. Food Wrappers (Candy Wrappers, Energy Bar Wrappers)
3. Plastic Bottles
4. Plastic Bottle Caps
5. Plastic Grocery Bags
6. Other Plastic Bags
8. Plastic Takeout Containers
9. Plastic Lids
10. Foam Takeout Containers
Some of the most common items found on beaches are:
Plastic Beverage Bottles
Cups, Plates, Forks, Knives, Spoons
Glass Beverage Bottles
Some of the most common items found at river cleanups are:
Plastic bottles and bottle caps
According to Keep America Beautiful, some of the most littered items are:
Food wrappers and cups
According to geelongaustralia.com.au, and the Victorian Litter Action Alliance, the most commonly littered items in Victoria, Australia are:
1. Cigarette butts
2. Glass bottles (alcohol and soft drink)
3. Plastic bottles/ PET drink bottles
4. Aluminium cans (alcohol and soft drink)
5. Plastic bags.
When, How & Why People Litter – Case Studies
You can read a case study about when, how and why people litter at litter.vic.gov.au
Another case study can be read at kab.org