The Home Guru: How Litter Affects Our Neighborhoods and Home Values

Litter on our roads can affect the perception of our neighborhoods and the value of our homes.

Litter. Littering. Litterbug. They would be almost cute sounding words were it not for their meaning and the deleterious affect they can have on our communities, neighborhoods and the value of our individual properties.

The issue of litter and its relation to real estate became abundantly clear to me a while back when I was driving to a house showing on a rather busy street, and the young couple I was accompanying told me to cancel the appointment even before seeing the property.  I thought the reason may have been that they preferred a quieter street. But that was not the issue. The female said, “I can’t live on a street where people just let litter lie there like that. Does the whole town have so little respect for the environment?” (And as it happens, they did choose another town that they felt was less littered.)

I don’t know how extensive the research is, but Keep America Beautiful tells us that houses for sale in littered neighborhoods usually don’t get the best prices, and littered towns have less chance of attracting new business, residents and tourists.

Because my property sits on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by roads, two of which are relatively busy, I believe that I have become somewhat of an expert on litter in the more than 30 years I’ve owned it.

What people discard from their cars or as pedestrians shows something how they live. And while the major offending throw-away in the 70s was cigarette butts, I would say that today it is mostly go-cups from slush machines, plastic containers for bottled waters and beer cans.

And, through the years, I’ve experience what I call serial episodes of littering.  For instance, for a period of more than 10 years, every single day, an empty pack of Parliament cigarettes in the hard box would be discarded on the corner of my property in exactly the same spot, accompanied by one cigarette butt.  Strange, huh? Surely, I thought, my property was targeted by some weirdo.

And while I like to think that I don’t possess a hateful bone in my body, I did start to hate the unknown perpetrator of this little crime (yes, it’s illegal).  I would fantasize about catching him (and, yes statistics reveal that most litterers are men) in the act, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and giving him a swift kick in his other butt.

And when his long-term daily deposit suddenly cased, all I could surmise was that he had moved to another community to fowl the air and the environment there. Gee, do I sound angry? 

Besides smokers, I think there must be a lot of overweight litterbugs out there because most of the packaging materials I pick up are either fromMcDonald’s or Burger King, always with a French fry container and a milk shake cup.  

The frustrating thing is that I’ve never once seen anyone actually discard litter on my property. I suspect they check first to make sure that nobody is looking or rid themselves of the refuse of their gustatory sprees in the dead of night when homeowners are fast asleep in their beds.

Keep America Beautiful also tells us that 75 percent of Americans admit to littering within the past five years (I’m in the 25 percent of those who never litter, and I’m sure you are too). Most common litter offenders are men between the ages of 18 and 34 who eat in fast food restaurants at least twice a week, go out for entertainment at least once a week and drive more than 50 miles a day.  So, while we may never catch them, we know a little more about them.

To help individuals out, most towns have a clean-up day at least once a year. In my hometown of Yorktown, it usually takes place around Earth Day in April. Last year, 668 people in 115 teams picked up 10 tons of roadside litter. Also in my town, as with most other towns, we have road sponsorships by local companies, which have varying degrees of success.  Bette Midler is a champion of sponsoring roads to remove litter in New York City.

While most towns have codes that classify littering as illegal and impose fines for businesses or individuals caught littering, do you know anyone who has ever been fined for littering? I don’t. In all these years I’ve lived in Westchester, only twice have I actually seen someone in the act of littering, but that was while I was driving in my car and saw a driver in front of me do it.

The first time, I saw a young man at a stoplight throw out a large soda cup, still filled with ice. I pulled alongside the offender (who incidentally had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth), rolled down my window and, perhaps venting years of frustration in not catching any of the guys who littered my own property, I shouted, “Pig!” His equally gruff response to me was to do something to myself that I am pretty sure is physically impossible.

But just recently, I had a better experience as a litter vigilante. Again, I saw a young man in front of me toss out a wrapper of some kind from his car window, and again I was able to pull alongside the car. With the kind of moderation that comes with the years, this time I said, “You know, it would be really nice if you didn’t throw your trash on the road.” This young man, obviously embarrassed, said sheepishly, “I’m sorry, sir,” and got out of his car to retrieve it.

Thankfully, the volume of litter around my own property and from what I’ve observed on neighboring properties and along the roads would seem to have lessened significantly in the past three or four years, don’t you agree? Is it because the environmental message is getting across? Or is it that consumers, beleaguered by a continuing recession, are spending less money on disposable goods? 

Whatever the reason, I’m grateful.

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (PrimaveraHomes.com), affiliated with Coldwell Banker. He can be emailed at bill@PrimaveraHomes.com or, reach him directly with any questions about buying or selling a home at 914-522-2076.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Kimberly April 16, 2012 at 03:11 PM
The amount of garbage/litter on Routes 9 and 9A through Croton up to Peekskill has really caught my attention. Its a disgrace. I called Town of Cortlandt Sanitation. They commiserated, and referred me to the state. I called and spoke with a gentlemen whose hands are tied to due budget cutbacks and layoffs. He said they were still taking care of trees from the October 2011 storm. He suggested I write to our neighbor, the Governor. I did so, on February 14th, citing the same reasons you did. such as lower property values, etc. I have not heard back and the litter is still abundant. I hope there is an opportunity to address it locally on Earth Day 2012.
Kimberly April 16, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Abby Normal April 16, 2012 at 07:16 PM
I don't think we should saddle the government with the responsibility of picking up the litter when the real answer is to stop it. Presently we used red light cameras and toll booth cameras and soon speeding cameras. This same technology can be used to find people littering in "litter prone areas". Then if something is dumped from your car, you can receive a $500.00 summons in the mail.
Aintthatascam April 16, 2012 at 08:58 PM
It disgusts me seeing teenagers dropping garbage out of their cars while parked at fast food locations, with a garbage can being 10 feet away..
joy April 16, 2012 at 11:29 PM
I have the same thoughts and issues as the author. I often complain that I seem to pick up so many McDonalds and Burger King wrappers, but never a single organic chicken package or salad bowl.


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