Cleaning Up With Keep America Beautiful


Nine out of 10 people believe that litter is a problem in their states—unsurprising given that there are 50 billion pieces of litter on the ground along U.S. roadways and waterways alone, according to The Keep America Beautiful 2020 National Litter Study.

The study was a follow-up to the organization's landmark 2009 study, which found that litter costs U.S. governments, businesses, educational institutions and volunteer organizations almost $11.5 billion annually. And lest you think the problem is only located along roads, where trash tossed by drivers is out of sight, out of mind for them, but a never-ending eyesore for the rest of us, know that that same 2009 study found an average of 105 litter items per thousand square feet at recreational areas. No. 1? Cigarette butts.

Founded in 1953 when a group of corporate and civic leaders met in New York City to unite the public and private sectors in order to develop and promote a "national cleanliness ethic," Keep America Beautiful focuses on three main goals: to end littering, to improve recycling, and to beautify communities.

You might be old enough to remember the "Crying Indian" ad, launched by the organization in 1971 in partnership with the Ad Council. That ad became an iconic symbol of environmental responsibility and remains one of the most successful PSA campaigns.

Current major initiatives at Keep America Beautiful include:

  • The Great American Cleanup: the nation's largest community improvement program, this annual event engages citizens in an estimated 20,000 communities nationwide to get out there and remove litter.
  • America Recycles Day: promoting and celebrating recycling in the United States.
  • Cigarette Litter Prevention program: since 2002, the nation's largest program aimed at eliminating cigarette litter. While cigarette butts continue to be the dominant form of litter, this form of littering is actually down 70%, according to the 2020 National Litter Study.

In addition to working with partners and affiliates on these nationwide efforts to reduce litter and boost recycling, Keep America Beautiful also supports several grant programs.

The Public Spaces Recycling Bin Grant Program, sponsored by Coca-Cola, supports recycling by providing bins to help communities expand recycling in public spaces.

Cigarette Litter Prevention Program Grants are merit-based grants for local affiliates, local governments, parks and recreation commissions and other organizations dedicated to eradicating cigarette litter.

I see litter as part of a long continuum of anti-social behavior.

— Bill Bryson, author

And, motivated by the need caused by devastation from natural and environmental disasters, the organization launched its Community Restoration and Resiliency Fund. This fund provides financial aid, technical support, in-kind donations and other resources to community-based affiliates and other community partners dealing with devastation in the aftermath of

natural disasters. The fund provides immediate and long-term support for cleanup efforts and helps to rebuild public spaces such as parks, greenways, open spaces and more. The funds aim to help improve physical resiliency, such as through green infrastructure, and social resiliency, by building community.

Most recently, the organization took applications for $1.2 million worth of grants in March 2020. "Getting through to consumers these days is increasingly difficult and changing their behavior to promote more sustainable communities is the goal of this grant," said Randy Hartmann, senior director of Keep America Beautiful. "We are encouraging applicants to develop comprehensive community improvement programs that will bring together and unite a diverse group of community members to address issues of climate change by promoting recycling, planting trees and inspiring individuals to take daily action."

For more information on Keep America Beautiful, visit