Litter Characterization Study

The Curb Your Litter team designed a study to help us better understand what is in our street litter, where it comes from, and how we can stop it at the source. The four easy steps of the study are described below.

Study your own litter!

This methodology was created for Greenpoint, but we designed it to be flexible enough for people to use in other neighborhoods! Get started on your own litter characterization study by downloading our forms and guides.


Select a zone to analyze


We’ve divided Greenpoint into approximately 400 zones that measure 8 blocks each. We try to make sure that each zone can be defined as either residential, commercial or industrial- the three primary land uses in Greenpoint. At each clean up day, volunteers are assigned to pick up trash in a specific zone. We give out trash and recycling bags labeled by zone to keep this track of the litter collected per zone. When all the bags are returned, we select one zone that comprises approximately 10% of the total trash collected that day to sort and analyze.


Break open bags of collected trash from selected zone & sort them into ten categories

We want to find out what the main components of our street litter are to create targeted incentives to stop them at the source. Members of the project team that live in Greenpoint noticed that the majority of trash on the street is associated with food packaging: coffee cups, plastic bottles, styrofoam trays, and plastic bags. So, we made sure to break these out, along with other common items found throughout the neighborhood to come up with our final list of ten categories:

  1. Plastic Carryout Bags
  2. Cigarette Butts
  3. Styrofoam/Expanded Polystrene (for food service)*
  4. Styrofoam/Expanded Polystrene (non-food service)*
  5. Other single-use food packaging
  6. Other Trash
  7. Paper (non-food, including cardboard)
  8. Glass
  9. Plastic Bottles
  10. Metal Cans

At each Clean Up Day, Volunteer Leaders dump out bags of trash onto a tarp, and sort the pile into a 5-gallon bucket labeled with the relevant category to be weighed.


Weigh each category


As the buckets fill up, the Volunteer Leaders weigh each one on a scale. We also count cigarette butts, plastic bags and food service styrofoam, because they are so light that weighing them doesn’t accurately capture their abundance. We’re using a heavy duty postal scale by Accuteck to measure the weight of the sorted trash and the overall trash collected at each clean up day.


Record on a log sheet


Weights are recorded on the back of the Zone Log sheet to the nearest .05 of a pound.

We included results from Clean Up Day #3 below as an example of what findings from this study look like.

Zone 3.3: Green to Java Streets, including Provost

Predominant character of blocks Industrial + Residential
Blocks 8
Trash bags collected 5
Recycling bags collected 3
Total bags collected 8
Weight of collected trash 35 lbs
Weight of collected recyclables 19 lbs
Total weight of litter collected in Zone 3.3 54 lbs
Littered Item Total Collected
Plastic Carryout Bags (weight) 0
Plastic Carryout Bags (count) 43
Cigarette Butts (weight) 0.75
Cigarette Butts (count) 869
Food Service Styrofoam/EPS (weight) 0
Food Service Styrofoam/EPS (count) 1
Other Styrofoam/EPS (weight) 0.3
Other Single-Use Food Packaging (weight) 4.95
Other Trash (weight) 22.6
Paper (weight) 6.35
Glass (weight) 5
Plastic Bottles (weight) 1.85
Metal Cans (weight) 2.9