Litter accumulation rates

Throughout this blog I have made many references to the size, age, origin and impact of litter. If you have a grasp of those four elements you’re well positioned to determine the right course of action to reduce or start eliminating litter. (I call that the effort)

The accumulation rate of litter will assist you in a couple of ways, all of which will save your council considerable time and money.

  • Helps establish intelligence driven schedules for cleaning activities
  • Enforcement or compliance activities can be targeted at the correct time and looking for the specific types of litter
  • Assist in the decision making process for when and where to install a ‘third kind’ bin. These are the bins that support your transitional and destination bins across your bin network.

Before we go any further a quick explanation of the two parts of a footpath from a litter perspective. There it the pedestrian corridor which is the unobstructed section of path that people move along from one place to another. The remaining section of the footpath which is generally located closest to the kerb is called the infrastructure corridor. That’s where you will find signs, seats, drinking fountains, bike racks, bins and other assorted items. Litter is found in both sections, but the majority of litter, around-a-bout 80% of litter on footpaths is found in the infrastructure corridor.

80% of litter is found along the infrastructure corridor of footpaths.

The first thing you need to do when establishing accumulation rates is to identify and group streets and strips that are similar in pedestrian usage, business types and similar complaints or issues. Once you’ve identified these similar streets you bundle them into a group and you can now generate litter accumulation rate that can be applied across each of your similar streets. It’s suggested that you label each of the grouped streets, perhaps class 1 for the busiest areas, class 2 for the next and so Once you get down to a 4, 5 or 6 category your pedestrian numbers will be pretty low as will the number of usable structures and services along the footpaths. (Usable items include things like bins, seats and drink fountains. These have physical engagement opposed to observational engagement. Like signs, lights and trees)

It’s excessively complex to apply an accumulation rate to an unkempt section of footpath, prior to any assessments the area will need to be thoroughly cleaned. This is also a great time to identify what level of cleanliness you’d like to have the area. There’s no point in counting five-hundred bits of litter if an area hasn’t been cleaned for six months. The baseline you should look to establish is the one you would like to keep, not one that you are simply looking to reduce litter from. A percentage reduction in litter may lead to a false sense of success if your starting point was catastrophic any improvement is easy.

The next step is a series of site visits at three different times during the day. That will give you a pretty good idea of what types of litter are occurring and when they are being created.

The following table is an example of what your assessments might look like. Each location assessed will require a quick visual inspection only of the pedestrian corridor, this should be enough for you to incorporate into your assessment without to much detail. The infrastructure corridor runs from the edge of the kerb to the edge of the unobstructed walkway. In each of the three count zones, you look for 20 metres of length no matter how wide the footpath is. (Mark up a picture)

A large piece of litter can be seen from ten metres, everything else is small.


Day Date: Weather: Notes:
Name: 7am – 9am 11am – 1pm 3.30pm – 5.30pm
Class: Small    –    Large Small     –    Large Small    –   Large
Within 20 metres of corner               /                /              /
Mid-block              /               /               /


So now after the areas have been cleaned and you have conducted the pedestrian corridor observations and the infrastructure corridor litter counts on three separate occasions throughout the day you will start to know more about your litter.

You may have noticed that litter gets larger throughout the day, from smokes and coffee cups in the morning to food packaging and beverage containers at mid-day and then into larger food packaging like pizza’s, and meal deals from fast food sites during the evening. And then back to smokes and chewing gum for the nightclub crowd.  

Littered items get a little larger throughout the day.


Understanding the accumulation rate of litter will have you scheduling your cleaners with more specific tasks that have been developed from observations. Often cleaners will have to walk past specific litter types because they are ill-equipped to deal with it, like cleaners with litter pickers picking up one cigarette butt at a time. That same cleaner with a pan and broom would clean the area in a matter of minutes. And a cleaner with a pan and broom or litter pickers will struggle to remove any chewing gum full-stop.

Sending cleaning staff out to complete any task works best when they are targeted and well equipped. It might be two days a week that your cleaners work with pans and brooms, three days a week they are using litter pickers, and they might only need thirty to forty minutes to scrape fresh gum from a number of footpaths. By knowing the accumulation rate you can send your cleaning staff out well informed and well equipped.

Most cleaners will pick up what’s in front of them if they are capable, but ill-equipped they will have to leave it. So if you understand the accumulation of litter along a footpath throughout any seven-day cycle you can target times, products and tools to make sure all litter is dealt with timely.


Inner city bike couriers deposited old bike tyres in the heart of the city. Without the right tools, cleaners have no chance.

We have discussed creating a rating for streets, knowing what activity is required in Class 1, 2, 3 or 4  rated street can now be applied. Busy CBD’s will have multiple Class 1’s and 2 rated streets connected to each other, as the town centre changes from commercial to semi-commercial to residential ratings change. A street on the edge of the CBD rated at class 4 might not need cleaning more than once a week according to your accumulation rates, you now divert that extra time and resources to dealing with your class 1’s and 2’s.

You can review accumulation rates for seasonal impacts as little as once a year but it is important that you review.  Your organisation wants to be applying the correct resources in the right location. It makes sense to understand your litter if you are looking to more effectively manage it as a professional organisation. This accumulation rate practice goes hand in hand with getting your bins in the correct locations. And when you have been improving your litter management techniques it’s the ideal time to engage with businesses and let them know what’s happening, tap into what it is they are doing and get them to join in.

That’s how you can leverage your improvements, and build some momentum.

Please feel free to drop me an email if you have any questions about this, it will take your organisation a long way if you and your team are willing to continually improve your processes.