“Seriously who just throws trash out of a car these days? Well it turns out lots of people do.”


“Dear PoPville,

So Georgia Avenue not by some considered the most beautiful or esthetically pleasing part of Petworth but you know we love it.We love the community the hellos the fact that we live on a major thoroughfare in DC and we all make it work. Sadly last week we collected six bags of trash(im taking big black bags folks) from the sidewalk.Seriously who just throws trash out of a car these days? Well it turns out lots of people do and tonight I had the displeasure of meeting some of these trash fiends.

At about 8:45pm tonight we witnessed a car pull up, people threw a plate of food out and entered next car. We suggested that the street wasn’t a trash can. Not a suggestion that was taken or well received. Looks like someone had a nice birthday party from the plate of cake I then picked up. How do we stop this sort of thing from happening in our beautiful community?”

Sadly I’ve been wondering the same thing since 2003. I don’t think it can ever be completely stopped. What you did was the best – pick up trash when you see it (within reason of course). It’s frustrating but if folks see you picking up trash – perhaps some will think about it more. Others will not care but at least you made an effort. And know that your efforts are appreciated by many.

71 Comment

  • It is my experience that cleanliness discourages littering while litter encourages more litter. Start with a small area and try to keep that area litter free for a period of time. On my particular block, that period of time was approximately six months. People will begin to see that this area is not one that is littered and, over time, will stop littering. That area will then be clean and you will no longer have to clean it. Clean areas are clean while littered areas are littered.

    • I find that when it comes to people who throw trash out of car windows this doesn’t matter, because they never spend time in that particular block and wouldn’t notice whether or not it was clean.

      The area of 4th/5th St. NW by the reservoir (between Howard and Michigan Ave) is the worst. People throw entire grocery bags full of trash (tightly knotted at the top) out of their cars in that stretch. The bike lane usually has 1-2 at a time. It’s a real pleasure dodging them given the fact that commuters also treat that stretch of road as if it’s a freeway and in addition to avoiding the cars tailgating one another at 45-50 mph you have to worry about particularly rage-y drivers using the bike lane as a passing lane without checking any manner of mirrors beforehand.

      • +1 to the point about people driving through the neighborhood. Just the other day I watched a woman drop a few items, including a Capri Sun pouch, out of her car window directly in front of my house at the stop sign. I live in Petworth; she had Maryland plates. She doesn’t care at all about keeping my neighborhood clean.

  • Thank you for your efforts!!! Seriously, the litter along Georgia Ave and side streets is frustrating and disgusting. I think it’s a hard thing to stop too because some people just do not care about the earth or neighborhood.

  • dumplingdreams

    Residents make the free-will choice to f*ck up their own neighborhoods and streets, but then whine about others “gentrifying”. This isn’t about poverty, race, marginalization, or anything else. Even the poor can keep a street and a front yard clean.

    • This most certainly has at least something to do with poverty and race, and I would be willing to bet that the people who are littering most often are probably not the same people who are speaking out against gentrification.

      • I would venture to say the opposite: that the people who litter are also the ones complaining about gentrification. Part of the reason property values were so low as to encourage new residents to buy up and improve houses was that enough of the current residents treated the area as their personal dump.

  • In my experience, keeping an area litter-free unfortunately does not discourage new litter… but existing litter definitely encourages even MORE litter.
    I picked up litter on my entire block pretty actively for about two years until tendinitis (which I got from squeezing the “grabber” mechanism so many times) forced me to stop. Now I stick to picking up in front of my own house and one or two houses on either side.

  • I make it a point to clean our block in Petworth every week. Two biggest culprits – kids and their candy wrappers! And, my neighbor (always leave their beer bottles next to their cars, cigarette packs, food containers too). Been tempted to dump what I collect in front of my neighbor’s house, but figured that wouldn’t be very neighborly-like…..

    • I look at addresses and names on trash I pick up. If it ever came up to be a neighbor you bet it would land right in their mailbox or on their yard. But I hope that never happens.

    • Ack. The candy wrappers! I feel like I pick up a new one every day from my yard. I assumed it was the same kid but clearly this is a larger issue.

  • Same goes for Florida Ave. All I can do is keep my side of the street clean—literally and figuratively. Otherwise I’d go nuts.

  • Oh, I pick up a quite a bit of discarded fast-food trash and whatever old receipts people don’t want in their car, from the sidewalk/treeboxes in front of my house in Park View if I don’t want a ticket for “failure to maintain abutting public space”. But I have to say that it might be less than it used to, especially now that our treeboxes are a little bit more landscaped and cute. Also, when I was overwhelmed with very small babies and unable to get out to take care of it, some neighbors would reflexively pick trash up on my section of the sidewalk frequently as they walked their dogs, without expressing an ounce of resentment for it at me, and I feel very grateful for those neighbors. Great community.

  • CHICKEN WINGS! I just cannot fathom how people can just walk down the street holding a thing of wings, and just toss their bones willy nilly. I just picture myself doing this, and it just seems so ridiculous.

    • sorry for all the ‘justs’…should have edited.

    • Yes, infuriating! I’ve witnessed way too many poor dogs almost choking to death because of this. 🙁

    • Yep, and it’s hell for people walking dogs, too. Some of the bigger dogs have strong tummies, but the littler ones get upset tummy from eating the bones. The trouble is these pooches are fast and they can smell the presence of a bone from a block away. Before the human even knows what’s happening the bones are in their mouths.

    • At least they are biodegradable. I don’t support littering of any kind, but on the scale of bad and worse things to leave on the ground, chicken wings are on the less problematic end. Worse than an apple core, but a lot better than a soda bottle.

      • I disagree. Soda bottles don’t attract vermin. They aren’t hazardous to people’s pets.

      • west_egg

        Chicken bones are also very dangerous for dogs. They love to eat them but they’re sharp and can damage the dog’s esophagus. If you’ve ever walked a dog you know how difficult it can be to keep them from nabbing them — it only takes a split second. And as fivecat notes, they also attract vermin.

        • For this reason, I’ve started letting my dog carry her ball with her during walks. It keeps her from putting other things in her mouth before I can stop her. And if she does try to drop her ball to eat something particularly interesting, the dropped ball gives me enough time to stop her!

      • Kudos to everyone who helps keep their block clean. When it comes to the chicken bones, if you see one when you’re just walking, kick it in the street. You might not walk around with a trash bag all day and no one wants to handle someone’s discarded bones, but if you at least kick them in the gutter or street you’ll be saving a a lot of nice puppies from a serious choking hazard. I watch my dog with an eagle eye every time but it’s almost impossible to keep him from all the bones people seem to toss out on my block.

    • Ugh, second your disgust with this. It’s awful. What’s wrong with people who think this is okay?! Last night while walking my dog I saw a rat dragging away a chicken wing bone from the sidewalk. Lovely sight. I try to pick up one piece of trash every time I pick up my dog’s poop. Doesn’t make a dent in the problem, though.

  • justinbc

    It’s a systemic cultural issue, many people just don’t respect the shared property of others, or the Earth itself. When I got off the bus a few weeks ago 2 young middle school aged girls got off after me, and one of them went over to the trash can at the stop the throw something away. The other, impatient and ready to be moving along, said “why the f#$% you go do that? just throw that on the ground” … no regard for consequences, consideration, or even recognizing that her friend was trying to do the right thing. The 2 to 3 seconds just wasn’t worth it in her mind, because ultimately someone else will eventually come clean it up, so it wasn’t her problem to deal with.

  • I hate when trash is just thrown out of windows. I see it all the time, especially (lit) cigarette butts. One time, while riding my scooter, someone in the car ahead me threw their lit cigarette out the window while stopped at a light. I picked it up off the road, tossed it back in the car (still lit) and told him he dropped something. The look on his face was priceless.

    • Not only is that rude, but it’s also exceptionally dangerous. I hate smokers littering too, but throwing something burning into a running car is a recipe for disaster.

    • Once someone threw one of those out their window while I was riding my bike, I was wearing a big loose cardigan with kind of big droopy pockets. The damn thing landed in one of those pockets and managed to burn a hole through my clothes before I could safely stop and remove it. Oh the rage.

    • that’s a great way to get your ass kicked

      • Or you could just kick his or her ass if they tried something…
        I had a guy just today breaking open a new pack of cigarettes in front of me on 13th street just south of Logan and throwing the plastic wrapper, etc on the ground. I picked it up and handed it to him “hey man, you dropped something.” and walked off. I am sure he probably just threw it right back on the ground, but to me it was worth it to make my point clear. This is all shared space and we should keep it as clean as we can, given that a shared space is inherently dirty.
        Is he really going to start a fight because I called him out on littering?

        • Yes, some people do start fights when being called out on littering. Someone in my neighborhood got severely beaten for doing that. It is insane.

        • Yeah — a few years ago in Logan Circle, a guy’s jaw was broken by someone whom he’d called out for littering.

  • I’ve been meaning to suggest to one or more councilmembers that D.C. introduce a deposit for glass bottles, aluminum cans, and plastic bottles.
    That wouldn’t cover all of the litter, obviously — snack food packages and candy wrappers are pretty popular on my block — but I think it would make a difference by giving people an incentive to dispose of those items properly. Look how successful the bag tax has been… if it weren’t for the bag tax, I suspect I’d be seeing lots of plastic bags flying around my block.

    • They’ve been trying that for, oh, 20-25 years now? The bottle and beverage distributor lobby is way more powerful than you think. Until somebody makes it a strong campaign issue and council members start losing votes because of it there is zero chance for anything passing.

      • I know those lobbies are really powerful, but the fact that D.C. managed to pass the bag tax despite the plastic-bag lobby gives me hope.

  • Ugh, people in the area from Petworth down to U Street litter like nobody’s business. Part of it’s the population/retail density, of course, but part of it’s that litter seems to be accepted as the norm. People throw garbage out of cars, metal fences almost always have takeout containers spiked onto them. I routinely watch adults and kids walk past numerous trash cans, just to throw their litter in the middle of the sidewalk a few seconds later. Sometimes, it feels like people are making an effort TO litter.

    Oh, I’ll also add that DC trash pick up is awful and part of the problem as well. You can always tell when pick up day is by looking at the amount of loose trash and recycling strewn around.

  • part of the problem involves trash blowing around near busier thoroughfares. I used to think my block just had an inordinate amount of litter until I noticed how weathered much of it is. Much of it improperly discarded but some just blown from overfilled trash cans in the neighborhood. . . of course we all know however that chickens and their bones do not fly

  • I’m always torn about confronting people when they litter. If they are young children, tourists, or yuppies, I will usually point it out to them. With some others I tend to just ignore it. As we saw in the Eastern Market Metro attack you never know how people will respond.

  • I actually witnessed a neighbor a few blocks from my house throwing trash (including mail) out of her own car into the gutter IN FRONT OF HER OWN HOUSE last week! I shook my head, and I heard her mutter something at me about “Keep walking gentrifying…”

    My neighborhood has a much worse problem with chicken wings though thanks to a local wing place. It’s gotten so bad that I can’t walk my dog in my neighborhood because every foot I’m either telling him to “leave it” or dragging him away or pulling it out of his mouth. I don’t even know how its possible but when I took him to a grassy courtyard, some 20 feet from the street chicken bones were EMBEDDED IN THE SOIL OF THE GRASS.

  • A few years ago a local non-profit did local research into why people litter.


    It was pretty interesting and eye opening. One take away was people from every race and income level litter but young people are the most likely to litter. And they found that people litter because they want to keep their immediate area clean (car, purse, etc) but don’t consider the larger ramifications of littering.

    • My only qualm with this is that it was based on a survey rather than observations. People may have the tendency to say that they don’t litter when confronted about it in a survey, whereas in the real world they have no trouble dropping garbage on the ground. I’d rather get a few dozen people to set up shop on a few corners throughout the city and tally up the people who throw trash on the ground.

    • This was an interesting read — thanks for the link.

  • I see littering in the city frequently. The most egregious example was when I saw someone casually throw his fast food drink down a storm drain as he was walking. The kicker was that there was a public trash can right next to it. I have no idea how you stop something like that.

    • west_egg

      In cases like that I can’t help but wonder if they’re actively trying to make things less pleasant, only because they can.

  • This post inspired me to go pick up the trash out of the gutter in front of my house where I found a used Plan B package.

  • I Dont Get It

    A neighbor, who I always thought was a bit of a sketch due to often sitting out in front of his building drinking a 40, was crossing the street the other day with his fresh 40 in hand and someone threw some trash out their car window. Suddenly he was Super Neighbor as he chased the car down the street yelling “Don’t throw that sh*t out on my street.”

    He’s my new hero!

  • Trash people leave trash.

  • We’ve discussed this before, but where is the Geoegia Ave Clean Team? I see a clean team out every morning on 18th St in Adams Morgan. Ditto for U Street. Why don’t the businesses do more to keep our area clean? In the meantime, perhaps we can find out why this isn’t being done on Georgia Ave – especially near the metro.

    • Not sure about U Street, but I think Adams Morgan has a BID (Business Improvement District), where businesses pay for (among other things) litter cleanup.

  • This kiiiiiiiills me. In fact, I felt my heart rate increasing while reading the comments (hah). It is something that is in everyone’s COMPLETE power. It just should not be an issue. It’s absolutely mind boggling why someone would think it’s ok to litter. When traveling abroad and talking to people about how clean their towns/cities are, I’ve heard on multiple occasions that they are simply proud of where they are from and where they live and so they want to keep it clean. Why that sentiment doesn’t resonate as strongly, naturally, or broadly here and in other places in the US, I don’t know.

  • Thanks to everyone who tidies up their neighborhood. It helps and it’s appreciated. Littering is a problem in many neighborhoods, it could be a good source of neighborhood pride if we staged a big Cleanup Day in Park View/Petworth. Or maybe it could be city-wide? I’d help out!

    • Sounds like a good idea. I think a cleanup day could done on Georgia Ave (across several neighborhoods) too. I’d definitely help out with that. You could fill a whole dump truck with the crap on Georgia Ave only…

  • What is the fine for littering in DC? If you take a cellphone pic of someone doing it (or their license plate) and report it to the police what are the odds they would follow up?

  • Not a day goes by when I don’t pick up trash from my own front yard. I keep finding discarded phone cards, empty bottles, dorito bags, even empty food trays… etc. and yeah, my suspicion is that it’s the illegal hispanic element (the phone cards are ALWAYS in spanish). Frankly, it makes me hate them. I want them to go back to their own country and trash their own country.

  • In my experience, while bicycling up GA ave have witnessed mostly African-Americans throwing all sorts of trash out of car windows. That’s not racism, just an objective observation.

  • If you want to see non-stop littering, come to my neighborhood – Riggs Park & Ft Totten. I pick up trash every day on my walk to the metro. The metro stop is filled with trash at the bus stops (most of it comes from 7-Eleven patrons).

  • I remember when Don Lemon made his 5 points about improving the black community folks laughed at him. Especially the part about littering.

    Littering isn’t a function of poverty. I grew up poor, neighbors took pride in their homes & appearances the best they could. Throwing a plate of food from a speeding car is anti-social behavior, period. Folks really need to stop excusing bad behavior.

  • It all comes down to what people were taught by their parents, and whether they still follow what they were taught. Those who weren’t taught what to do with litter as kids are probably hopeless at this point. Perhaps schools could teach kids? When I was a kid, there were TV ads about not littering highways, so Americans largely stopped throwing trash out the windows of cars while driving on highways, as was extremely common before then. So people like me, who were kids, learned it both at home and through the media campaign. Maybe the city needs to do a serious anti-litter education campaign.

  • Why don’t the police issue tickets? I am so tired of seeing people litter on the streets and the Metro. And why don’t they do anything about the hundreds+ cigarette butts that are thrown on the ground every day?

  • Unfortunately, I have witnessed many of the patrons of the GA Ave Popeye’s eat their food on my street (Hamilton St), and cast their chicken bones, soiled napkins and other trash into my neighbors yards and mine. Each time, I wish I could follow them home and shit in their yards or on their property.

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