The Psychological Phenomenon of littering
The Psychological Phenomenon of littering
The Psychological Phenomenon of littering

Litter, litter, trash could be the next duck, duck, goose.

I see it before me, little kids praying they will be ‘trash’, chosen to run around the circle. You’re laughing but it could happen if we continue with all this rubbish. The problem is, we’ve all become desensitized and numb, seeing so much of everything every day all at once. It has messed up our brains and left us with little capacity to take real action on the issues that matter to us (thanks Zuck!). We see so many campaigns online about every issue there is, but nothing seems to change. We've been tricked into thinking we can solve the issues of the world by posting on social media. Yet as soon as we peel our eyes from the screen and go outside (into the real world), a sense of dread lingers in the air.

Part of my job is to raise awareness of climate change and promote the methods of sustainability, but in reality, there’s only so much I can do online. The real change happens in the physical environments we all live in. We need to snap out of our hypnosis and look around us. But beware! If you lift your head from the warm glow of the metaverse for long enough, you may just notice the sea of rubbish surrounding you.

In cities such as Edinburgh or Glasgow, litter is a frequent sight. Within 30 seconds of stepping off of a bus or a train, you will see rubbish blowing around on the streets. Due to the density of people in these cities, it has become part of everyday life. Standing on someone’s half-eaten burger, watching a seagull choke on an empty crisp packet – normal. Even in Scotland's most beautiful green spaces, litter is commonly found along roadsides, in fields, in forests, and even in the mouths of birds. Relax, I’m referring to those seagulls, not your girlfriend.

One fact that can be easily overlooked is that a person's internal environment has a significant effect on how they interact with their external environment. Mainstream media often sensationalizes headlines about litter in public parks and cities, blaming the individual and calling for punishment, whilst completely missing out on the internal reasons as to why a person would litter. Some people litter as an act of aggression towards their employer, council, or specific region. This, then, further adds to their inner turmoil as they try to release their anger into the external environment, creating synchronicity between their inner feelings and their outward environment. In many cases, it only takes one person to litter for others to follow. God, we sure are good at blindly following trends! Studies have shown that littering is highly unlikely in areas with no litter, whereas an area already covered in litter is more likely to attract further littering. It’s an endless cycle. What most people don’t understand is that a clean and comfortable external environment can help release the mind to be more forward-thinking and optimistic about creating an enjoyable place to live. What did I say about endless cycles?

To address the environmental issues that require our attention, we must first improve people's internal environment. Improving mental health services and increasing the quality of life for our citizens will outwardly express itself in transforming the environment. People with depression, for example, are less likely to have the motivation to clean or tidy their external environments. To find time, motivation and even care to live in a clean and tidy environment is hard. Especially if you are struggling with issues such as your mental health. However, recognizing and understanding the harmony that exists between our internal and external environments is crucial. It starts with cleaning up rubbish, which fosters a generative mindset of growth and care, and consequently has a knock-on effect on other societal issues. It’s hard to be rational, and calm and think about how to solve our wider societal issues in a filthy environment. What is that saying? Tidy desk tidy mind. Think of your environment as your office desk. Cleanse your mind.

 A catch-22 is that if people would properly take the time to connect with nature, they would find profound effects on their mental health. The Mental Health Foundation's research paper states that connecting with nature is associated with lower levels of poor mental health, including depression and anxiety. In this transaction, individuals actually interact with their external environments, which consequently leads to their behaviour and experiences being positively impacted by their surroundings.

As part of my role within LLPlastic, I wish to make it my mission to research this area of how we physically and psychologically interact with our environment. I believe that if real change is to be made in any aspect of life, we need to recognize the harmony between our internal and external environments. Our health is mirrored in the health of our planet. If we wish to heal one, we must heal the other.

If you are interested in reading a more scientific-based research paper on this subject, I would recommend:

  • The Psychology of Environmental Stewardship: Understanding Positive and Problematic Environmental Behaviour by Robert Gifford.

For ways to understand your brain, I would recommend:

  • “Huberman lab podcast” which covers a vast range of different subjects and the “Blind Boy podcast” Specifically the CBT episodes.


If you are interested in finding out the effects social media has on our wider society this video from an ex-Google employee testifying to Congress is packed full of interesting insights:


Lastly, I would recommend the books:

  • The Body Holds the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
  • Atomic Habits by James Clear


Thank you for your interest in this subject!


Written by Matthew porter

Edited by Ivy Fancey Scheifler


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