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10 Cities With the Worst Littering Problem

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Construction Coverage.

Litter is a nationwide problem, but communities across the country have significantly different experiences with waste.

According to the 2020 National Litter Study from Keep America Beautiful, there are nearly 50 billion pieces of litter in U.S. roadways and waterways, and 90% of U.S. residents agree that litter is a problem in their state. But recent trends in litter are K-shaped, meaning that some communities — with more resources for cleanup or behavioral and economic characteristics that discourage littering — have seen decreases over time, while others have had more litter in recent years.

These diverging trends in litter are also evident within certain cities, especially those where economic disparities are growing. Residents who have greater means or are living in wealthier parts of these communities report encountering litter less often, while residents of lower-income neighborhoods see more dumping and waste.

Growing homeless populations in these cities may also increase the presence of litter, as large encampments produce more waste near streets and roadways.

To determine the locations with the worst littering problem, researchers at Construction Coverage calculated the share of households with litter on their block, ranking them from high to low. In the event of a tie, the location with the lower average opinion of their present neighborhood (on a 1–10 scale) was ranked higher.

The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey. Only select metropolitan areas and states with data available were considered in the analysis.

Here are the major U.S. metros with the worst littering problem.

10. Chicago, IL

Chicago with clouds
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  • Share of households with litter on their block: 9.4%
  • Average opinion of present neighborhood (1–10 scale): 8.54
  • Average opinion of present home (1–10 scale): 8.61
  • Median household income: $72,000
  • Median home purchase price: $188,000

9. Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix, Arizona
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  • Share of households with litter on their block: 9.8%
  • Average opinion of present neighborhood (1–10 scale): 8.59
  • Average opinion of present home (1–10 scale): 8.89
  • Median household income: $64,000
  • Median home purchase price: $195,000

8. New York, NY

Rain in New York City, New York
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  • Share of households with litter on their block: 10.0%
  • Average opinion of present neighborhood (1–10 scale): 8.62
  • Average opinion of present home (1–10 scale): 8.84
  • Median household income: $70,000
  • Median home purchase price: $270,000

7. Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee on Lake Michigan
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  • Share of households with litter on their block: 10.2%
  • Average opinion of present neighborhood (1–10 scale): 8.69
  • Average opinion of present home (1–10 scale): 8.76
  • Median household income: $60,000
  • Median home purchase price: $160,000

6. Memphis, TN

Memphis Tennessee
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  • Share of households with litter on their block: 11.4%
  • Average opinion of present neighborhood (1–10 scale): 8.57
  • Average opinion of present home (1–10 scale): 8.70
  • Median household income: $45,000
  • Median home purchase price: $129,000

5. Portland, OR

Aerial view of Portland with Mount Hood in the background.
josemaria-toscano / Shutterstock.com
  • Share of households with litter on their block: 11.9%
  • Average opinion of present neighborhood (1–10 scale): 8.38
  • Average opinion of present home (1–10 scale): 8.56
  • Median household income: $75,300
  • Median home purchase price: $240,000

4. New Orleans, LA

stormy sky in New Orleans, Louisiana
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  • Share of households with litter on their block: 12.2%
  • Average opinion of present neighborhood (1–10 scale): 8.67
  • Average opinion of present home (1–10 scale): 8.72
  • Median household income: $48,600
  • Median home purchase price: $140,000

3. Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
f11photo / Shutterstock.com
  • Share of households with litter on their block: 12.5%
  • Average opinion of present neighborhood (1–10 scale): 8.59
  • Average opinion of present home (1–10 scale): 8.75
  • Median household income: $71,570
  • Median home purchase price: $175,000

2. Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles
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  • Share of households with litter on their block: 14.9%
  • Average opinion of present neighborhood (1–10 scale): 8.52
  • Average opinion of present home (1–10 scale): 8.73
  • Median household income: $75,000
  • Median home purchase price: $300,000

1. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, California
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  • Share of households with litter on their block: 18.1%
  • Average opinion of present neighborhood (1–10 scale): 8.67
  • Average opinion of present home (1–10 scale): 8.80
  • Median household income: $106,000
  • Median home purchase price: $456,000

Methodology

Man analyzing data on a laptop
fizkes / Shutterstock.com

The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey for the year 2019, the most recent data available.

To determine the locations with the worst littering problem, researchers calculated the share of households with litter on their block, ranking them from high to low. In the event of a tie, the location with the lower average opinion of their present neighborhood (1–10 scale) was ranked higher. Only select metropolitan areas and states with data available from the American Housing Survey were considered in the analysis.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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