Reducing Curbside Littering in NYC: Policy Memo to Mayor Bill DeBlasio





DATE: APRIL 11, 2016



New York City generates 14 million tons of waste annually, costing over $300 million for residential waste alone.[1] The litter that results from the daily journeys of New Yorkers is an issue that has been attempted to be solved for a long time. Due to the current state of our environment, it is imperative that we minimize street litter in order to ensure the health of our waterways and drainage systems, the livelihood of NYC’s wildlife, and the overall status of our global environment. Four solutions will be proposed in an attempt to address this pertinent issue.


Litter is a huge source of contamination. Street waste is important to control due to its ability to fall into drainage systems, and eventually falling into our waterway.

  • Street litter, alongside pesticides, fertilizers, sediment, automotive fluids, and pet waste can pollute water hundreds of miles downstream from the source.2
  • This kind of non-point source solution is problematic because it then places the clean-up responsibility on communities that did not necessarily cause the problem. Clean-up responsibilities also include a degree of economic costs, which could be problematic.


Litter poses an immediate threat to NYC wildlife. Consumption of street litter by wildlife, including birds and squirrels, for example, can be deadly.

  • Because many birds typically do not discriminate when eating, they are liable to ingesting small pieces of plastic and trash, which can kill them. Scientists estimate that more than one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year as a result of entanglement in, or ingestion of, marine debris.3
  • Native animals are just as affected by this kind of pollution as are marine animals. The biodiversity of the urban area is put at risk when such large amounts of street litter are left. Plants and soil quality are also affected by such litter.


Proposed Solutions:

Each of the following solutions require some degree of governmental influence. They have been analyzed based on five criteria: overall effectiveness, political feasibility, economic costs, environmental costs, and social factors. Greater weight has been given to overall effectiveness, economic costs, and environmental costs due to the scale of the issue.

  1. Continue with the only proposition included in PlaNYC, which is to create and implement a litter education program.
  • In terms of environmental costs and consequences, there will still be a large amount of people continuing to litter. Educational programs will only work if people choose to care enough to change their ways. Socially, it is important to consider the tone in which the public will be addressed. Tone highly influences whether people are willing to actually change their ways.
  • The economic costs of this program is moderate. There are people that will need to be paid to create this program, as well as people that will need to be paid to go out and enforce the program. There is also the possibility of people not necessarily changing their ways, resulting in the ineffectiveness of this program and the costs outweighing the benefits.
  • This solution has high political feasibility since it has already been signed into law.
  1. Create a fining policy for street littering.
  • This policy would have to be the least politically feasible. The process to pass this into law would be difficult, because there would be a significant amount of backlash from NYC residents. This solution receives a low social score for the same reason – public attitudes will not be favorable towards this solution.
  • In terms of environmental costs, this policy would be effective in the sense that people will be less likely to litter if they are fined large amounts. Ex: London
  • Economically, the fines have the potential to bring in a large amount of money, which could go towards relief for the damage that has already been done.
  1. Place more trash cans in strategic
  • According to P. Wesley Schultz and his team of researchers, “one well-placed receptacle is likely to produce a larger reduction in littering than several inconveniently placed receptacles”.4 This policy would require a re-evaluation of current receptacle locations and possibly the addition of more receptacles in areas that are lacking. This means that economic costs will most likely be moderate, especially if more receptacles need to be added.
  1. Have the Department of Sanitation host weekly volunteer-powered street cleanups.
  • In terms of economic costs, this solution is moderate in the sense that it can create more jobs in the economy, but will also require initial funding.
  • This solution receives a high environmental and social score due to its ability to get trash out of the streets in potentially large numbers. If this program is implemented across the five boroughs, the amount of litter in the streets can be decreased dramatically.
  • Socially, this solution has the ability to bring the community together, which is beneficial when attempting to reach a common goal. A study conducted by Ralph Hansmann and Nora Steimer showed how face-to-face interaction positively influence changes in behavior when it comes to the problem of littering.5 This program can serve educational purposes in this sense, which could potentially affect overall street-littering rates.




Based on the decision analysis, I deem it would be wise to strongly consider a recurring street cleanup initiative, where residents would be able to volunteer to clean up highly-littered areas. As shown by the table, the street cleanup solution has a high social value due to its ability to bring people together to solve the issue. It is not something that is imposed upon the residents in the area, but rather an option that allows for the community to learn and become conscientious about the issue. The problem with political feasibility and fining residents of the NYC area drastically decreases that solutions success, similar to how an educational program falling under PlaNYC might not produce as much of an environmental benefit to the area. It is imperative that we get the people of NYC directly involved when attempting to solve this issue, especially because the problem originates from our actions. A direct service experience has the power to drastically influence the lives of many – not just humans.



  Effectiveness Political Feasibility Economic Costs Environmental Costs Social Weighted Score
Criteria Weight 0.25 0.125 0.25 0.25 0.125
PlaNYC (No Change) 1 3 2 1 1 1.5
Fining Policy 3 1 1 2 1 1.75
Reevaluating Placement 2 2 2 2 2 2
Street Cleanup 2 2 1 3 3 2.125
Scoring: 1= low feasibility, costs are greater than benefits

2= moderate feasibility, costs and benefits are equal

3= high feasibility, benefits are greater than costs



1 “Waste and Recycling”. NYC Mayors Office of Sustainability: Mayors Office of Recovery & Resiliency. <>

2-3 “Storm Drains and Water Pollution”. The Ocean Conservancy. (2003). <>

4 Schultz, P. Wesley et al. “Littering in Context: Personal and Environmental Predictors of Littering Behavior”. Environment and Behavior. (January 2013).   <>

5 Hansmann, R., Nora Steimer. “Linking an Integrative Behavior Model to Elements of Environmental Campaigns: An Analysis of Face-to-Face Communication and Posters against Littering”. Sustainability. (2015). <>


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