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'Garbage Freaking Everywhere'

Across the country, as the weather improved and pandemic lockdowns were lifted, Americans ventured outside and noticed that their neighborhoods looked a little different.

A little... dirtier.

Neighborhoods that had been relatively clean before the pandemic were now full of litter. “There is garbage freaking everywhere,” says David Biderman, the executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). Requests to clean up trash and remove graffiti were up 300% over 2019 and reports to Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful of illegal dumping were up 213% in 2020 over 2019.

There are several reasons for this, People are also creating more waste at home. They’re buying single-use personal protective equipment like gloves and masks—Keep America Beautiful estimates there were about 207 million pieces of PPE litter on the ground at any given time in late 2020. 

Programs that existed to pick up litter were suspended or cut during the pandemic. Departments of Corrections suspended programs where prisoners picked up trash by the side of the road. And community-based cleanup events were canceled to avoid large gatherings.  

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Garbage in an overflowing street trash receptacle in New York on Feb. 23, 2021. Richard B. Levine—Sipa USA
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