Kane County Recycles: Why Litter Is a Growing Problem In Kane County

Kane County Recycles: Why Litter Is a Growing Problem In Kane County

  • Editor’s Note: This article — part of a series of stories on litter in Kane County — is written by Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland and Kane County Environmental & Water Resources Intern Claire Eaton, a sophomore at University of Illinois Springfield. Got a question or idea for a recycling tip? Contact Jarland at 630-208-3841 or recycle@countyofkane.org.

Many of the questions we hear when we talk about recycling in Kane County involve how we got to this point.

Why is it that we don’t recycle more products? How is it that there are so many products that can’t be reused or repurposed? What is Kane County doing to solve the problem of waste disposal?

The answers to these questions will be explored in future articles, but the fallout is clear: more stuff means more waste, which ends up in landfills or recycling bins or in the environment as litter — which is a growing problem in Kane County and the topic of this multipart series.

A Brief History of Litter

As manufacturing boomed after the end of World War II, corporations found a way to create demand by producing goods or packaging that was intended to be used only once and then conveniently discarded.

In this Life magazine photo, a family tosses paper cups, plates, aluminum foil pans, lunch trays, straws and napkins through the air illustrating the usefulness of disposable dishes.

“Single use” became an increasingly popular form of packaging, and people continued to purchase and dispense of the surplus supply of products as demand rose.

Companies were thriving, production costs were low, and consumers embraced the throw-away mindset we know so well today. Tossing things out became the norm as Americans experienced growing affluence.

Check out this glimpse into the birth of the disposable culture, as documented by Life Magazine in 1955.

Single-use products flourished because they were so convenient to use and throw “away.” The problem, as environmental and social justice activist Julia Butterfly Hill says, is that “there is no such thing as away!”

As a natural consequence of generating more trash, we in turn began generating more litter. The improper disposal of litter as well as a lack of public disposal areas quickly turned into a social issue, and the one we know today.


As mentioned in Part 1 of this litter series, the responsibility lies all along the chain — from production to consumption to disposal. We will talk more about that in a following article.


The issue of litter has been present for decades, and with it arose awareness of the resulting environmental damage. When environmental movements started to gain ground in the 1960s and 1970s, public concern skyrocketed.

Campaigns began to form, such as Keep America Beautiful, which has been working to bring attention to the subject for more than half a century. KAB also organizes the Great American Cleanup, an annual event that aims to involve communities.

They also organized effective PSA’s in the 1970s relating to litter, such as the infamous  “Crying Indian” campaign.

Litter Laws

There are currently many ordinances and policies in place to prevent large scale dumping or blow off from garbage haulers. Some places have high fines for littering, and it is an illegal practice.

In Illinois, tossing a cigarette on the ground is punishable by a fine up to $1,500!

Littering on an Illinois public highway can result in a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment. If convicted of littering on a public highway, the violator may, in addition to other penalties, be required to maintain litter control for 30 days over a portion of that highway.

Here is a link to the state statute: 415 ILCS 105 Litter Control Act.

But these rules often go unenforced, as it is regarded as a less severe offense and it can be difficult to pinpoint the source of litter.

Next In The Series

What can be done today to further address the issue of litter? Whose shoulders does the responsibility fall on? These questions will be discussed in following articles in this series.

Read The Series