My husband and I have just spent 3 person-hours picking up litter along a one mile plus stretch of quasi-rural road, both sides. We have been doing this twice a year for a long, long time, but things have gotten worse since the county repaved the road.

As for the 2 larger roads that it connects -- ugh!

Is there evidence that "Adopt a Highway" programs reduce litter?

I can see it going either way: (1) the sign that the next mile is adopted by Group X makes some people think and not throw out that empty plastic water bottle; or (2) they think "someone's going to pick this up so why not toss it?" And then there is (3) litterers don't think at all.

This may be off topic, but there is lot of beautiful outdoors marred by roadside litter.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Mar 12, 2017 at 21:28

2 Answers 2


This question spawned a lot of comments, there are some interesting thoughts there.

The premise of the question "Is there evidence that "Adopt a Highway" programs reduce litter?" caught my attention. So I went looking for the answer.

Three things impact littering

  1. Personal choice
  2. Education
  3. Lack of existing litter

Littering is a habit and prevention starts with you. Research and experience have shown that litter is the result of individual behavior—choosing to litter or being careless in the handling of waste. Once litter is on the ground, it attracts more litter. A clean community, by contrast, can discourage littering and improve community appearance and quality of life. source

  1. Personal choice is not really impacted by the "Adopt a Highway". Education and enforcement are primary modifiers here.

  2. Education is the key to changing behavior and preventing litter. I did not find any reference suggesting the presence of an "Adopt a Highway" was sufficient to "educate" anyone. You may recall the Keep America Beautiful - (Crying-Indian) Commercial from the 70's it was part of an education program.

  3. "Adopt a Highway" programs do reduce the presence of litter, and this has been shown to decrease new litter.

The Adopt-A-Highway concept began in Texas in 1985, volunteers pick up the trash the two primary goals are to keep the roads clean and decrease the amount of money required to accomplish the task.

"Is there evidence that "Adopt a Highway" programs reduce litter?" They do reduce the cost of litter removal, and if the volunteers remove litter more frequently (& effectively) than paid personal would, the cleaner road will be less likely to attract new litter.


  • 1
    I didn't think about the cost savings before but now that you mentioned it that seems like an obvious benefit and motivator from the state's and/or county's point of view. I also like your observation that people who care are likely to do a better job than someone who doesn't.
    – Erik
    Feb 26, 2016 at 15:24
  • I live in Fairfax County, VA, a rich county. They don't spend $$ on cleaning the highway verges -- not that I have noticed.
    – ab2
    Mar 1, 2016 at 2:22

I have landscaped for a city in BC for several years and have notice that the "Adopt a Highway" only works on very short streets and only then if the those picking up the litter are doing so at least monthly. Generally speaking, it does not seem to make any difference. I can clean a bed along a busy road, go for lunch, and after break, find garbage on the very spot we were cleaning up!

Cities simply need more by-law officers to fine people for littering and that is simply not going to happen.

Germany on the other hand is so clean that is really amazing. Over there the fines are stiffer and are handed out on the spot! That's the way to go.

  • 4
    German here. Simple littering (i.e. throwing away single items that are not dangerous) carries rather low fines (maybe 30 EUR) and is rarely punished. Germans simply don't do it in general because it would be unorderly. Feb 24, 2016 at 17:34
  • @MichaelBorgwardt Another German here who can confirm that. It's just not socially acceptable.
    – OddDeer
    Feb 25, 2016 at 9:49
  • @Michael Borgwardt Is littering specifically not acceptable, or is part of a larger behavioral complex? And, do most Germans routinely recycle?
    – ab2
    Feb 27, 2016 at 19:18
  • @ab2: I'd say it's part of a general strong preference for neatness and orderliness. And yes, separating trash for recycling is the norm as well. Feb 28, 2016 at 18:06

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