Arrive Alive

Roadside Litter, Environmental Protection and Road Safety

Roadside Litter, Environmental Protection and Road SafetyIntroduction

South Africa is a beautiful country and one of the best places for a road trip. Sadly, too many road users are guilty of spoiling its beauty when they litter from their vehicles.

Litter does not only reflect badly on our community but comes at a terrible cost with a far-reaching impact environmentally, economically or socially. It presents a very real danger to drivers, workers, cyclists and other road users and animals.

With increased car usage and our hectic modern lifestyles, we find more and more people consuming food and drink ‘on the go’ and in transit. This Includes a sandwich, crisps or a snack bar and a bottle to drink as many people’s lunch.

They are consumed in transit as we travel from one place to another for work or when transporting the kids to and from school. [Which could be a dangerous driver distraction as well]

It is important to recognise that roadside litter is an avoidable problem and education, enforcement, engagement and policy and legislation all have a role to play.

Research by the Transportation Research Board in the US stated that: ‘The national effort to reduce the roadside litter problem is at present largely fragmented and under researched’, there is a ‘…lack of reliable data on the roadside litter problem’ and that ‘Publicising the impacts of roadside litter likely would bring greater resources to bear on the roadside litter problem.’

In this section, we would like to take a closer look at the nature and impact of this threat to our health and safety.

Roadside Litter is a Global Hazard

Roadside littering is not unique to South Africa. This unacceptable habit can be found in many other countries:

In South Africa, the Toll concessionaire N3TC [Managing the N3 Toll road between Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg] collects and sorts all waste and recycles as much as possible. Around 4700 bags of litter are collected every month which does not include items that cannot be bagged such as metal, rubber, vehicle parts and dropped loads.

What is Litter?

What is Litter?

Litter can be defined as consisting of waste products that have been disposed improperly, without consent, at an inappropriate location. Roadside litter is taken to mean any unwanted items which are disposed of which ends up on and next to our roadsides. More commonly, this comes from vehicles but it may come from any road user.

Where does roadside litter come from?

Where does roadside litter come from?

Litter is collected everywhere along our roads but also most often at specific locations where it is usually concentrated such as at interchanges. Vehicles are often parked there illegally and their drivers leave their trash behind.

Some sources of litter are:

What are the Risks presented by Roadside Litter?

What are the Risks presented by Roadside Litter?

Littering is not a “victimless crime”. It also does not only degrade our road environment but is a threat to those using our roads and living alongside our roads. The hazards presented by this thoughtless conduct include:

Environmental Threat of Roadside Litter

Roadkill and Litter

Roadkill and Litter

We raised a few questions with Wendy Collinson from the Endangered Wildlife Trust to gain insights on the relationship between Litter and Roadkill.

Are you aware of any studies on the impact of littering along our roads on animal life?

There are no studies as such (i.e. research with statistical evidence), but a lot of guideline documents across the world state to not throw litter out the window, etc. We also share these in our media releases. My assumption is that people are aware of it, as they’ve witnessed animals feeding on thrown scraps, but there is no literature on this.

Which are the most hazardous materials to our animals?

Depends on how you look at it … everything is hazardous. Anything that is littered is going to create a problem, as an animal will naturally come and feed on the litter, and possibly become a roadkill. This may be food scraps or packaging that contains remains of food. At least with food, it is easily digested (unless it is something that is poisonous to the animal, of course … but it’s possible the packaging that is big (unrecognised) problem. You’ve only got to look at all the horrific images on social media which show animals suffocating on plastic that has been discarded, to see that plastic, more so than food scraps, is the bigger polluter.

Is it fair to say that animals may become road kill because of people littering?

100% … it’s natural scavenging behaviour. Why miss out on a free meal?

Which animals are most likely to be attracted to the roadside by litter?

I would say all … they are opportunistic. Birds will peck at apple cores, small mammals will eat anything etc, etc. And then you’ll get the scavengers coming in to feed on these smaller animals that end up as roadkill … so Jackal, birds of prey etc.

Do you believe more awareness should be created about why we should NOT litter? 

Without question …. Particularly around the plastic packaging side of things. One always forgets the spread of alien and invasive plants and we just focus on the impact on fauna. What about seeded-fruits (from other countries), that get thrown out of car windows. Yes, they will decompose quickly and are unlikely to take root… but it’s possible.

Roadside Litter an Unnecessary Expense on the Taxpayer

How can we combat littering?

How can we combat littering?

Initiatives to reduce littering are mostly focused on 2 strategies. These are:

a) Preventative strategies (e.g. signs, community involvement, design)

b) Consequence strategies – rewards and penalties. These have been found to both generally effective in reducing littering.

It should be recognised that witnessing, identifying and proving the offence of litter from vehicles, particularly when they are moving, is difficult. It is also seldom easy to burden already very busy traffic and police officials with the duty to bring these those who litter to justice.

According to a national survey of Adopt a Highway schemes in 1999:

In South Africa, many companies and schools dedicate specific worthy initiatives such as 67 Minutes for Madiba to cleaning their environment and collecting litter from the roadside.



It is believed that a culture of anti-littering goes hand in hand with the culture of road safety. When someone litters, they litter their own roads, their own community, their own paths. The same can be said of irresponsible and unsafe driving behaviours where people feel disconnected in their cars and disconnected from the community causing a threat to their fellow road user.

By increasing the love for our neighbourhood, community and people we might not only reduce litter but also improve our attitude towards safety on the road!

Also view:

Healthy Eating, Driver Fitness and Safer Driving

Nutrition and Road Safety

Energy Drinks, Driver Alertness/ Tiredness and Safe Driving


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