Litter education in schools would help to address litter by changing the attitudes and behaviors that create the problem

House Bill 111 received unanimous support from the House Education Committee and will move to the full House of Representatives for a vote in the near future. House Bill 111 “requires instruction in litter prevention and awareness for public school students in kindergarten through grade five.” You can find the full digest here. As part of our ongoing commitment to strengthening litter education, enforcement and infrastructure, Keep Louisiana Beautiful supports this bill.

If you are in support of litter education in Louisiana, please reach out to your representative concerning the passage of House Bill 111 by phone or email. We encourage you to do so today, as this bill will be reaching the house floor for a vote in the near future. Click here for their contact information.

Keep Louisiana Beautiful is committed to raising a new generation of environmental stewards to move our focus from litter abatement to litter prevention. Litter education goes beyond simply not throwing trash on the ground– it includes full understanding of the impact of toxic litter on the health of our wildlife, waterways, and economy. Litter prevention is more effective and economical than treatment.

Litter education in schools would help to address litter by changing the attitudes and behaviors that create the problem in the first place.
These talking points attempt to address a couple of questions that have arisen about litter education in Louisiana schools:

1) Is litter education effective at reducing litter?
2) What is the likely impact that litter education would have on students?

Attitudes about littering include feelings skepticism about whether littering is truly a deviant behavior, if it seriously harmful to the environment, and whether it is worth mitigating. Littering behavior includes the actual acts of littering, the kinds of objects that are littered, and the circumstances that prompted the littering act to occur. Litter education has positive effects on changing student attitudes and behaviors toward littering because it instills a positive cultural value and norm for how we treat our environment. (Hartley et al., 2015, Oliver et al., 1985).

How litter education is delivered also matters. Litter education has traditionally been provided as “stand-alone” programming, often carried out by non-profit or governmental organizations. These litter education programs in schools can indeed help reduce waste and litter (Armstrong et al., 2004, Cutter-Mackinzie, 2010).

However, greater results are seen in changes of attitudes and behavior when such programs become explicitly embedded instruction within the school itself (Ong and Sovacool, 2012). Littering is a behavior that is learned at a young age and once the behavior is adopted, it is difficult to influence it otherwise. There is also an additional benefit of providing litter education to youth – and that is the changes that they can instill in their parents and family members. While plenty of anecdotal evidence exists that what becomes important to children becomes important to their parents, it is important to note that this claim is also supported by the literature (Knafo and Galansky, 2008, Damerell et al., 2013).

There is some concern that litter education will “take away” time teachers have from teaching core subjects. It is our position that such education compliments and enhances student learning experiences. For example, Louisiana’s current state science standards ask students to investigate and develop solutions to environmental problems. Litter is a relevant example of a problem that, unfortunately, nearly every student has experience with. Litter education also compliments the social studies disciplines of geography, civics, and economics.

Indeed, there is ample evidence that performance in core subjects is enhanced when viewed through a local environmental lens (Lieberman and Hoody, 1998). Providing our students with an understanding of the environmental challenges we face will not only help them to become better problem-solvers of those unique issues, but it will also prepare them for many new career paths that have emerged in today’s world. Litter education is needed because it is not explicitly embedded within the state standards, and we can’t assume that implicit education alone will instill the values we wish our students to have (Corrigan et al., 2007).

However, litter education is not a “stand-alone” topic – in explicitly calling for litter education, we are creating an opportunity to embed this topic across academic disciplines.
Is litter education effective at reducing litter?
Yes. Litter education changes attitudes and behaviors towards littering. Explicit, embedded instruction is more effective than implicit instruction and instructional programming. Changes in attitudes and behaviors are not limited to the students receiving instruction, but are transferred to parents and peers.

What is the likely impact that litter education would have on students?

Current state standards do not explicitly call for litter education. However, many of these standards can be addressed by students and teachers through litter education. Performance in core subjects is enhanced when those subjects are in local, environmental contexts. Furthermore, new state standards that emphasize cross-disciplinary approaches to problem solving are complimented by litter education.

HB 111 will give children the tools they need to be good environmental stewards. They are inheriting the lands of Louisiana and all of its challenges. It is not a secret that Louisiana has a serious litter and environmental neglect problem – perhaps the worst in the nation. It is in Louisiana’s best interest to give young people the tools needed to be good stewards of it. We are counting on them to break the cycle of neglect and to raise the bar for a clean and beautiful Louisiana. It is our hope and our expectation that they will become environmentally responsible young people and leaders of tomorrow prepared to handle such a monumental task. They will be best equipped to handle this challenge through lessons learned in the classroom.

 Louisiana has a huge litter and neglect problem. The problem is so big that currently litter costs Louisiana over $40 million dollars. DOTD spends $7.9M to pick up trash along the interstates and yet they are still littered.  Litter and general neglect is damaging to the state’s economic development and to Louisiana’s image.  Companies are hesitant to locate and invest in littered communities. It attracts criminal elements and hampers tourism. Litter is harmful, polluting waters and damaging habitat, it makes wildlife and marine life sick, and it is a public safety issue. The appearance of our state is a direct reflection of the people who live here and its leadership body. Perhaps the worst of it is that when we live amidst it for so long, it starts to become the norm.  Our expectations are lowered. We become blind to it and when that happens change will never come about. It’s a problem that sooner or later Louisiana is going to have to address in a big way. It will not go away on its own and we cannot pick up our way out of this problem.

 Keep Louisiana Beautiful believes that our litter problem must be addressed through three core initiatives:
1. improving statewide infrastructure to make it easier to reduce litter and recycle;
2. strengthening environmental law enforcement.
3. influencing positive behavior through environmental education.
 Littering is not a new problem but it is one that has changed since we were in grade school. When we were growing up we did not face the same challenges that we face today. When we were young we were not swimming in a sea of single use waste. Curbside recycling was unheard of. Bottled water did not even exist much less was it a problem. Some of us can still remember reusable glass milk bottles and soda bottles. There weren’t fast food stores at every corner with drive thru contributing to roadside litter. Our generation consumes more than the last, and all of it is packaged in what soon becomes trash. According to a Duke University study today people generate on average 4.6 lbs of waste each day. That’s an increase of 1.6 lbs per person since in 1960.
There are 4.7 million people in Louisiana. Therefore, we produce 7.5 million lbs. of more trash each day than in 1960.

What have we done to better manage that increase? Have our policies, our infrastructure, enforcement efforts and environmental educational programs grown and changed to keep up with this significant increase?
 Parents and families and the broader community do play a role in this education, but it must be taught and reinforced in the schools. Unfortunately, all too often, it is the parents, the adults who are the biggest offenders. How can we expect parents to teach and model a behavior that they don’t practice? You cannot assume that every adult who throws a cigarette butt out their car window fully understands the extent of the harmful effects it will have on water quality and marine life once that toxic butt hits the waterways. You cannot expect adults to understand the full effects of micro plastics in our oceans. We must break the cycle and we can’t do that by simply brushing it off as a parent’s responsible. We must educate our children. They are our hope. The state cannot afford to NOT address this issue.
 Keep Louisiana Beautiful and a host of like-minded organizations currently have environmental lesson that align with the GLEs created to help teachers. These lessons are free and can be made readily available to teachers throughout the state to assist in implementing this bill. Now is the perfect time to act on this. In fact, it has never been a better time. On the heels of the newly adopted Science standards, imbedding these core principals into environmental education curriculum make sense. It allows our children to apply the concepts they learn in their textbooks to the choices they make in their daily lives, making the material truly meaningful.
 This bill supports a healthier, cleaner more economically stable Louisiana. Litter and pollution serves nobody well. It makes no difference whether you are from a rural area in Sabine Parish or a large city in Orleans Parish –litter is costly. It makes no difference if you are male, female, black, white, Democratic or Republican litter harms us all. It is in the best interest of all children and all Louisianans to support this bill.

Other Points to Consider:
 This will not put an additional burden on the teachers or take away from instructional time because littering concepts can be used as a tool to teach core subject matter. See excerpts from Potential Value in Litter Education in Schools – There is some concern that litter education will “take away” time teachers have from teaching core subjects. It is our position that such education compliments and enhances student learning experiences. For example, Louisiana’s current state science standards ask students to investigate and develop solutions to environmental problems. Litter is a relevant example of a problem that, unfortunately, nearly every student has experience with. Litter education also compliments the social studies disciplines of geography, civics,
and economics. Indeed, there is ample evidence that performance in core subjects is enhanced when viewed through a local environmental lens (Lieberman and Hoody, 1998).
 There is no anticipated direct material effect on governmental revenue as a result of this measure.
 Local school districts may decide to develop their own instructional materials or use ones that have been developed and are available free of charge. La. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Keep Louisiana Beautiful and other non-profit organization have lesson plans aligned to the state learning standards that may be used to assist in the development of curriculum and instructional materials.
 The state will not dictate how this law will be implemented. Local school governing authorizes can adopt rules and regulations to implement such instruction. Schools have the flexibility of deciding to use currently developed lessons, conducting school-wide programs or embedding it into existing curriculum.
 This bill will add teeth to our environmental education efforts. We will continue our education work in local communities to support and reinforce what is being taught in the classroom.

Literature Cited

Armstrong, P., Sharpley, B., & Malcolm, S. (2004). The Waste Wise Schools program: Evidence of

educational, environmental, social and economic outcomes at the school and community

level. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 20(02), 1-11.

Damerell, P., Howe, C., & Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2013). Child-orientated environmental education

influences adult knowledge and household behaviour. Environmental Research Letters, 8(1), 015016.

Corrigan, D., Dillon, J., & Gunstone, R. F. (2007). The re-emergence of values in science education. Sense Publishers.

Cutter-Mackenzie, A. (2010). Australian Waste Wise schools program: its past, present, and

future. The Journal of Environmental Education, 41(3), 165-178.

Hartley, B. L., Thompson, R. C., & Pahl, S. (2015). Marine litter education boosts children’s

understanding and self-reported actions. Marine pollution bulletin, 90(1), 209-217.

Knafo, A., & Galansky, N. (2008). The influence of children on their parents’ values. Social and

Personality Psychology Compass, 2(3), 1143-1161.

Lieberman, G. A., & Hoody, L. L. (1998). Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an

Integrating Context for Learning. Executive Summary.

Oliver, S. S., Roggenbuck, J. W., & Watson, A. E. (1985). Education to reduce impacts in forest

campgrounds. Journal of Forestry, 83(4), 234-236.

Ong, Ivy Bee Luan, and Benjamin K. Sovacool. “A comparative study of littering and waste in

Singapore and Japan.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling 61 (2012): 35-42.

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