Littering: The Financial/Environmental Cost and Prevention

Garbage Can
The City of Toronto’s public litter bins have compartments for trash, recycling and cigarette butts.

Litter makes our city look dirty and it also costs you, the taxpayer, over $10 million a year to clean up. While the City of Toronto has earmarked funds for litter and waste collection in its annual budget, everyone has a social responsibility to help keep our communities clean.  In 2012, the City conducted the Toronto Streets Litter Audit.  Here are some of the findings:

Paper and plastic cups comprise a large majority of the waste items being picked up by the city in the “large litter items” category. To reduce waste and stop your tax dollars from going to waste, use a reusable travel mug instead.  In the “small litter items” category, cigarette butts are the most common waste item. One in five cigarettes smoked in Toronto end up as litter and they can take up to 12 years to break down.  The entire cigarette butt does not decompose because the filter is made of thin plastic fibers, which never fully breaks down. If you smoke, use a public ashtray.

Toronto’s garbage and recycling bins have lids for a reason – to prevent materials from blowing onto neighbouring properties, sidewalks and roads. When putting your bins at the curb, make sure the lids are firmly closed to prevent your garbage from becoming the community’s litter.  For oversized and/or hazardous items, please follow the instructions on the Household Collection Calendar in order to safely dispose of these items.  Dumping garbage on city boulevards is an offense and is liable to a fine of up to $10,000 for first-time offenders and up to $25,000 upon subsequent convictions. It’s also illegal to place household garbage in public trash bins – fines start at $360. The best way to reduce litter is through prevention.

Local litter researcher and anti-litter activist, Sheila White, has founded the Litter Prevention Program. The program’s goal is to raise awareness and educate people of all ages about the ill effects of littering.  It teaches residents not to litter, which saves taxpayers money and is beneficial to the environment.  The Litter Prevention Program has been delivered to a variety of audiences in Toronto such as public schools and community associations. For more information on this local program, please visit