Today, we’d like to put a spotlight on National Cleanup Day by looking back on our Public Litter Can project. Although we envision a clean and sustainable future for the City of San José, overcoming the issue of litter remains a constant challenge. Despite launching a city app in 2017 that lets residents report public trash, the city struggled to keep up with the massive increase of requests to clear illegal dumping sites. Partnering with the City of San José, San Jose State University students used this chance to explore what factors and variables affected public litter can use.
Students enrolled in Professor DeHaan’s SOC 104 Quantitative Research Methods and 105 Qualitative Research Methods classes focused on collecting data surrounding littering in sites with and without access to litter cans. The team was able to spend about 62 hours observing each of the six different locations throughout the city from 9am to 7pm; 9th and William, 6th and St. James, 3rd and San Fernando, 4th and San Fernando (Credit Union), 4th and San Fernando (Bank of America), 4th and San Fernando (Library). During their observation, 75% of individuals threw items in the correct spot.
The next step was for students to gather information from the residents themselves about their general attitudes towards littering in Downtown San José. Upon surveying a total of 500 residents, the students analyzed their data and showcased their results with quotes, numbers, and images. Their results showed that about 30% of individuals who engaged in littering behaviors were ages 21 to 31 years. About 30% of littering incidents involved recyclable materials. It’s thanks to the efforts of Professor DeHaan’s students and the support of the city that we were able to identify homelessness and litter can accessibility as the major contributors to litter. Many community residents believed that littering encourages violence and crime in the neighborhoods and stressed the need for a spring cleaning event. Unfortunately, such an event was not possible due to the unexpected pandemic.
However, in the spring semester of 2020, Professor DeHaan and three sociology students collaborated with CommUniverCity’s project coordinator to create a presentation for our Steering Committee Meeting using the Public Litter Can final report. Their findings showed that males are more likely to litter (76.9%) and to use litter cans (65.6%). Those ages 21 to 30 accounted for 50% of all people who used litter cans but only about 22% of all people who littered. Highlighting litter tendencies is only the first step towards a clean future, but a step towards the right direction.