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Let’s put a stop to littering

Everyone can contribute to reduction of littering in simple ways. Sort garbage in the bin and collect litter from the environment. However, citizens’ actions alone are not enough, since litter also ends up into the environment from various sources: different stages of waste management, construction sites, fields, ports – in other words, wherever people, activities and materials meet.
An employee of the city of Helsinki's Stara cleans up trash.
© Stara

Citizens have a general wish for reducing littering: there should be more rubbish bins or they should be bigger and closable. Overfull rubbish bins surrounded by birds and other animals are a  familiar sight.

The Municipality  is responsible for ensuring the sanitation of its areas, and when littering increases, also the costs tend to rise. For example, the City of Helsinki has estimated that its street cleaning costs are approximately  11 million EUR annually. Increasing the amount of garbage bins means that the costs of waste collection will also rise.

Everyone can prevent littering.

Do not leave any litter in the environment.

When everyone takes care of their own garbage, the environment stays clean.

If the nearest garbage bin is full, take the garbage to another one or take it home with you.

The benefit of taking it home is that you can sort it for recycling.

Put cigarette butts in a portable case.

Cigarette butts are particularly common and harmful piece of litter because of the harmful chemicals they contain. The filters are cellulose acetate that degrades slowly. Cigarette butts can end up in waterways via storm waters.

Combine picking up litter with jogging or take part in organised cleaning campaigns.

You can find information on local “cleaning campaigns” on social media. You can also check out the Siisti Biitsi app by Pidä Saaristo Siistinä ry (Keep the Archipelago Clean), which connects voluntary cleaning crews with the dirty areas  .

Do not leave fishing gear, i.e. line, hooks, lures and nets, in the environment.

Especially fishing nets, lines and ropes that are made of loops or knots cause tangling of animals.

As litter can be found everywhere the comprehensive picture of littering is not yet available. There is no uniform and commonly accepted way of assessing environmental littering, therefore the used methods may differ drastically around the globe.

Sources of  littering

Most of the litter can be found in residential areas and close to human activities. Especially, the share of single-use plastic packaging is high.

Illegal landfills and dumping of waste into the environment are not actually recorded by municipalities, but cases can be estimated based on, for example, nuisance notifications to municipal environmental authorities.

For now, the most information available on environmental littering is on beach litter. In Europe, beach litter has been monitored and well documented for years. In Finland the amount and quality of seashore litter has been screened since 2012.

According to the monitoring results, about 90 per cent of the beach litter in Finland consists of plastic, and up to 70 per cent of litter on urban beaches consists of cigarette butts. Other common types of litter are food packaging, polyurethane foam, bottle caps and lids, plastic bags and ropes, and unidentified plastic items.

The amount, type, origin and transportation routes of urban litter have not been systematically studied in Finland. In 2021, the Finnish Environment Institute studied the amount and types of litter in two different urban park areas in Helsinki.

In total, 4,886 litter items, or 0.8 pieces per square metre, were collected and identified from the study areas in the parks. In both parks, about 90 per cent of all litter was plastic. The most common type of litter, in terms of the number of pieces, were particles of polystyrene, accounting for about 32 per cent of all litter, and cigarette butts, accounting for about 18 per cent of all litter.

Littering causes many problems. Especially, various plastics pose harm to birds and other animals. Animals can get tangled in the litter or eat them by mistake, which can in the worst-case   be lethal. Littering also has impacts on health, amenity of the environment and environmental well-being.


Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)