Let’s talk about littering on playgrounds

Littering is a social problem that exists worldwide. In some countries it is more prevalent, in others less so. There are three types of litterers (IG Saubere Umwelt, 2021):

  • Non-Litterer
    • Does not want to be caught littering
    • Does it out of conviction
  • Occasional Litterer
    • Does not follow rules
    • Does what his colleagues do
    • Does not think about it
    • Find everywhere a «hidden» place to dispose the waste
    • Does not have time to dispose of the waste
  • Heavy Litterer
    • Likes to do it
    • Sees no reason to not litter
    • Does it on purpose so that cleaning staff clean up

During my time as a community service worker in a day-care centre, I became aware of how dirty a playground can be. This problem is addressed in detail in this blog. The background to the problem is made clear, as are the possible solutions.

Global Challenge

The sustainable development goals are global environmental goals, designed to make our planet a better place for people, animals and living organisms. The focus in this blog will be on the goals Nr. 15 «Life on Land» and Nr. 3 «Health and Well-Being». For example, up to 7’000 harmful substances can be found in a cigarette butt and other waste found on the playground (Samson, 2021). As this is a playground, there is a high risk of young children putting this rubbish in their mouths and thus endangering their lives. In long term his problem causes damage to the environment, as for example a plastic water bottle takes about 450 years to biodegrade (Allpeoplecanplay, 2022). And on the other side the playground is going to be avoided by the people.

This picture of a toddler sitting in a playground full of broken glass and litter is heartbreaking
Source: derbytelegraph, 2018

Consumer behaviour

According to the IGSU there three types of litterers. A study by the KAB has shown that age is the decisive factor, not gender. People under 30 years litter more often than people older than 30 years (KAB, 2021). Another reason is that people get infected by the environment and fellow people. If the place is clean, less littering is done. Nevertheless, if it is already dirty, people are more likely to litter on the ground. (Potomac Conservancy, 2021).

The consumption behaviour of people who litter affect various areas.

Impact on people: Littering is disruptive, reduces the quality of life and the public’s sense of safety in public spaces and deteriorates the image of a city or community. Littering can also have a direct negative impact on people’s health, for example when children cut themselves on littered items, burn themselves, or put contaminated litter in their mouths (IG Saubere Umwelt, 2021).

Ecological impacts: Waste items have negative consequences for the environment. On the one hand littering contaminates soil, plants and water bodies. On the other hand, littered materials cannot be returned to material cycles and thus cannot be recycled. Instead, new resources must be extracted with all the associated environmental impacts (IG Saubere Umwelt, 2021).

Economic impact: Littering costs a lot of money. The cleaning costs for littering in Switzerland are approximately up to CHF 200 million annually: 75% occurs in the public space of cities and municipalities and 25% in public transport. In addition, high costs are incurred for prevention measures and awareness campaigns (Berger und Sommerhalder, 2021).

Possible Solutions

Austin Stanfel

Austin Stanfel’s (2022) audio described the problem in detail and offered solutions. It was mainly about putting multiple trash cans in the park so that trash is recycled properly. In particular water bottles. I support the solution proposed by Austin Stenfal. In my opinion, there needs to be multiple touch points where consumers are confronted with this problem. Posters are effective. Especially if the posters arouse emotions. People always act according to their emotions and if these emotions can be manipulated, this problem can be avoided. The emotion triggering posters should be distributed all over the park. However, people are unpredictable, so larger play areas should be cleaned daily. Further solution variants are in the hands of the production companies.


As a smoker myself, I am affected by this problem. Cigarette butts are very often found in playgrounds and cause great harm to the environment and fellow human beings. Young people are not aware of this situation because they do not have children themselves. Therefore, it is of high relevance that young people are addressed with this problem and that the competent authority of the playground responds to it, for the benefit of the children.


Allpeoplecanplay., 2022. Keeping Your Playground and Park Clean. Online: https://www.allpeoplecanplay.com/blog/park-playground-waste-management/ (last accessed 02.06.2022)

Berger, T., Sommerhalder M., 2011. Littering Kostet. Fraktionsspezifische Reinigungskosten durch Littering in der Schweiz. Bundesamt für Umwelt, P. 42–46. Online: https://www.igsu.ch/files/bafu_litteringkosten_2011.pdf (last accessed 02.06.2022)

Bisknell, E., 2018. This picture of a toddler sitting in a playground full of broken glass and litter is heartbreaking. Online: https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/news/local-news/picture-toddler-sitting-playground-full-2102015
(last accessed 02.06.2022)

IG Saubere Umwelt, 2021. Ursachen von Littering. Online: https://www.igsu.ch/de/littering/ursachen-von-littering/ (last accessed 02.06.22)

IG Saubere Umwelt, 2021. Folge von Littering. Online: https://www.igsu.ch/de/littering/folgen-vonlit-tering/#:%7E:text=Die%20Auswirkungen%20von%20Littering%20sind%20vielf%C3%A4ltig.&text=Auswirkungen%20auf%20Menschen%3A%20Littering%20st%C3%B6rt,Image%20einer%20Stadt%20oder%20Gemeinde. (last accessed 02.06.22)

Keep America Beautiful (KAB), 2021. Littering Behavior, Yumpu. Online: https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/34458506/littering-behavior-keep-america-beautiful (last accessed 02.06.22)

Potomac Conservancy, 2021. The Real Reason People Litter and How You Can Help. Online: https://potomac.org/blog/2020/2/1/why-people-litter (last accessed 02.06.22)

Stanfel, A., 2022. Keeping Your Playground and Park Clean. Online: https://www.creativesystems.com/keeping-your-playground-and-park-clean/ (last accessed 02.06.2022)

Samson, O., 2021. Warum Zigaretten so schädlich für die Umwelt sind, WWF Blog. Online: https://blog.wwf.de/rauchen-umwelt-zigarettenkippen (last accessed 02.06.22)