The goal of this project was to change the littering behavior of residents in Forest Heights, Maryland and the surrounding communities to create a Trash Free Community. Utilizing extensive research, AFF has developed a littler prevention campaign which consists of a compelling message, visuals, and outreach tools to trigger behavior change and encourage engagement of residents. Through experiences in Deanwood in the District of Columbia, AFF has learned that it is necessary to engage residents through activities they are already participating in, specifically by finding a central location in the community where many residents are already participating in activities. Other key lessons learned were to listen to the issues of the community, have large visuals on display, and have ways for engaged citizens to get involved.


Behaviors: Picking up litter and disposing of trash properly

Behavior Pattern: Continous

Why was this behavior selected?

AFF and consultants spent two years conducting social marketing research on citizen's attitudes towards littering in the Potomac River watershed. OpinionWOrks, led by Steve Raabe, conducted a series of focus groups; one-on-one interviews with admitted litterers; a DC-wide public opinion poll; and interviews with 50 businesses to get to the root of littering behavior and examine existing attitudes. Included in this effort were two focus groups in Western Maryland which were funded by CBT for the evaluation of developed materials. Noral Group International, led by Eva Kasten, combined and translated understanding from all of the research with the target audiences, including in-depth psychological analysis by Dr. Sam Cohen, to create an overarching campaign "brand." From this highly planned and researched brand position, AFF's communications firm Ruder Finn, led by Juliet Glassroth, created a Toolkit of communications items. The Toolkit is available online for use by partnering jurisdictions, agencies, non-profit organizations, and citizens. A communications firm, Communications Visuals, prepared the campaign brand, final images, and simplified tagline.

Messaging and materials were piloted in the District of Columbia's community of Deanwood in 2010-2011. Important lessons have been learned in Deanwood, including the need to work with established activities and not create new activities. In addition to the litter prevention message, it is important to provide community members with small actions that allow them to be active participants in their Trash Free Community.

This extensive research showed there are deep-rooted barriers to changing littering behavior. For most litterers, litteringis merely an implusive behavior and defenses for this run high, including: repression -- "I don't think I litter;" denial -- "It's not litter, it's just a gum wrapper;" rationalization -- "There isn't a convenient trash can;" and externalization -- "People are paid to clean up litter!"

Target Audiences

Audiences: Litterers

Primary Audience: Litterers

Secondary Audience: N/A

Demographics: Asia/pacificislander, Black or african american, Hispanic or latino, Other, White

Ages: N/A

Description of Target Audience

The primary audience is persistent litterers. The secondary audience is people who occasionally litter or accept others littering who are litterers. A survey conducted in 2008 by the social research firm OpionionWorks showed that there is littering among all demographics of people, no matter the race, age, or socio-economic groups; however young men show a highly increased incidence. Because the audience is diverse, anti-littering messaging must reach the broadest range of people and be available in a variety of formats.

This project will impact all residents of Greenbelt and Forest Heights, which are located in Prince George's County, Maryland.

Prince George's County: Pop: 863,420. 14.9% White, 64.5% African American, 14.9% Hispanic/Latino, 4.1% Asian, 1.6% Other.

Forest Heights: Pop: 2,585. 13.38% White, 79.11% African American, 2.9% Hispanic/Latino, 3.37% Asian, 1.24% Other.

Greenbelt: Pop: 21,456. 39.74% White, 41.35% African American, 6.45% Hispanic/Latino, 12.05% Asian, 0.41% Other.


How did you research your audiences: Intercept surveys


See above.

Gaining insight into your target audience

This litter prevention campaign and community outreach is one arm of AFF's Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, with the mission of a "Trash Free Potomac by 2013," also an AFF's organization goal. The Initiative also includes the annual Potomac Watershed Trash Summit, the Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, and Trash Free Potomac Facilities and Trash Free Schools programs, and a framework to address policy, regulation, enforcement, and other market-based strategies. As the most visible portion of the Initiative, the Campaign is an opportunity to communicate with a wide variety of watershed stakeholders, including schools participating in AFF's environmental education programming and businesses with potential to sponsor Initiative activities.

Greenbelt and Forest Heights communities were chosen because they have shown leadership with solving environmental problems. Forest Heights' Go Green initiative includes a Tree Canopy Program partially funded by CBT. Both communities participate in the Potomac Watershed River Cleanup and are eager to move beyond cleanups to solve the trash problem. Mayor Jacqueline Goodall of Forest Heights and Mayor Judy Davis of Greenbelt ahve signed the Potomac Watershed Trash Treaty and are committed to comprehensive solutions. Trash is a visible and tangible problem that has the potential to engage local communities in pesonal actions that directly affect the health of the watershed as well as enhance community pride. Many citizens have concerns for safety, and the need to clean up and restore dangerous and unsightly vacant properties. Partnership and community-based strategies used to solve the trash problem may be applied solve other community and environmental problems.


Outreach Tactics: Intrinsic rewards, Prompts, Public commitment statements, Social norms

What media/communication channels did you use? Direct mail, Events, Face to face, Online or other digital media, Small group or public meetings

Products and services


  • Template Presentations: The template presentation can be used by stakeholder or partner organizations for local meetings, public venues, PTA meetings, etc. Template presentations formats are powerpoint, verbal only, or a combination of posters and verbal.
  • Written Sound Bites: A variety of "sound bites" or brief talking points, will be provided that can be read by spokespeople at public events such as concerts, meetings and county fairs.


AFF will produce the following (numbers are per community)

  • 3 Banners: 2'x5': Must be scheduled with AFF. Loaned banners are rotated regionally.
  • 30 Posters: The Campaign poster can be used in public facilities, such as recreation centers, government offices schools, libraries and parks, bus shelter ads, side of bus ads, metro ads, and point of purchase ads. It is expected that the campaign poster will be the most used item through the entire region. Various sizes available.
  • 200 Flyers: The campaign flyer can be used in various ways, including as part of county mailings by government agencies and service bills, and neighborhood outreach. 8.5"x11, 11x17
  • 500 Decals: A campaign decal can be used as a giveaway to display in offices, homes, businesses, schools, trash cans, garbage trucks, and personal vehicles. Various sizes available.
  • Billboard: Many jurisdictions allow and use billboards on county highways. Various sizes available.
  • Bumper Sticker: Similar to the decal, the campaign bumper sticker can be a promotional giveaway.
  • Print Ad: The campaign print ad can be laced in jurisdictional agencies' newsletters to the public, as well as in community newspapers, church bulletins and local magazines.
  • Book bag fact sheet: The book bag fact sheet is a seasonal, family-friendly document meant to engage children and parents. This flyer can be shared with schools and included in their schedule of handouts.

Website and online media

  • Blasts: Email copy that can be shared through e-blasts to community members, included in government newsletters, and distributed to listervs that include schools, businesses, and community groups
  • Social Media Recommendations: Each community will receive the campaign's social media recommendations to easily implement social media activities (such as Facebook and Twitter)
  • Online ad: An online ad for websites is available in a range of sizes that can be inserted in county and city websites as a link to the central campaign website.

Events: Include promotion plans, location, outline of draft program, and approximate date.

  • The Potomac River Watershed Cleanup will be held on April 14, 2011. Site leader materials including volunteer recruitment tips, media outreach, and data collection points are available at www.trashfreepotomac.org. Schoolyard Cleanup curriculum is also available online.
  • Additional cleanups will be incorporated into the outreach strategy for each community

Additional Campaign Resources:

  • Media Targets: A list of local media targets for each community will be provided in the Toolkit.
  • Media Outreach Tips: Tips will help stakeholders feel comfortable talking with the media.
  • Talking Points: The talking points will provide consistent messaging and help answer questions from the media, the public or interested third parties/businesses.
  • Top 10 Questions: The top 10 questions that a reporter may ask.

Primary Messages

Focus group participants stated that they were less concerned about the water and more concerned about their immediate home, family, and space. The regional litter prevention campaign aims to raise anxieety about littering and offer a higher level reward for being trash-free through the key message: "By choosing to take care of trash, I am protecting myself and my family's health, happiness and safety." This translates into an innovative and empowering campaign message: "Take control. Take care of your trash." An additional message line: "Your litter hits close to home" will impact the palce that is important to litterers- their home. The first imaged produced with this message is of children playing in a sandbox with typically littered items. The focus groups with admitted litterers, found realistic images, particularly those with children, more impactful than abstract or exaggerated images.


How did you measure impact? Survey, Attendance List

Total People Reached

In addition to working with the Mayor, AFF engaged other organizations in discussion about the issues, needs and possible opportunities for collaborations. These organizations included Branch Avenue in Bloom, Hillcrest Heights/Marlow Heights Civic Association, Forest Heights Elementary School, Transforming Neighborhood Initiative leaders, United Communities Against Poverty, and River of Life Church. Town Hall Meetings to engage residents were attempted, however one was poorly attended and one canceled due to an emergency.

AFF's Litter Prevention Campaign consists of visual materials including posters, banners, stickers and other materials. These materials are bet utilized in concert with outreach activities. The smaller 11" X 17" posters served as a way to start a conversation with businesses, recreation and community centers, libraries, and apartment complex managers, as well as remind people of our mission. Ultimately, their purpose is to change behavior, but the first step is getting them displayed. The larger banners were placed at strategic locations in the area with guidance from the Mayor. Within just several days of being displayed, all the banners were stolen. Unfortunately, without additional budget and assurance that the same issue would not repeat, additional banners were unable to be printed. Stickers bags and informational brochures and fliers were distributed at events and presentations. Brochures were also distributed with the opinion survey after the completion of the interview, as another measure of encouraging residents to get involved.

A critical component of any community is reaching the young people of the community, as they are part of the littering population. In an effort to reach students, AFF reached out to the Forest Heights Elementary School, Glassmanor Elementary School, Oxon Hill Middle School, and Oxon Hill High School, encouraging them to display materials, conduct cleanups, and participate in AFF's Trash Free School project. Large posters were also printed for schools. Posters were successful displayed in Forest Heights Elementary School, but the other schools would not display without permission from the Prince George's County School Board. Forest Heights Elementary was also the only school to sign the Trash Free Schools pledge, agreeing to work towards waste and litter reduction activities in the school. The school held a school wide cleanup event, instituted several waste reduction activities in the classrooms, and continues to pursue the removal of the polystyrene food trays in the cafeteria. Their efforts were so extraordinary, they were honored with a Potomac Champion award, at AFF's 2012 Potomac Watershed Trash Summit. Other efforts to reach students occurred with several presentations and activities conducted with the Town's after school enrichment program. All students were given reusable bags, posters and stickers.

In the past, AFF has found that activities that were developed just for littler prevention education were poorly attended, and thus holding meetings is not an effective tool for behavior change. Keeping this in mind, AFF south existing activities to participate in, while supplementing with cleanup events. While more of an awareness activity then a behavior change activity, cleanup continue to be a relevant part of litter prevention for two reasons. First, in order for behavior change to occur, people need to see the impacts of the behavior, and secondly, a clean area is less likely to be littered, so perpetually littered areas are unlikely to break the cycle unless the litter is removed. The existing events that AFF capitalized on included Forest Heights Day, Branch Avenue Day, Forest Heights Sports Team Celebration, Hillcrest Heights/Marlow Heights Civic Association Meetings, and other smaller organizational meetings.

For events that were specifically organized by AFF, fliers advertising the events were created. These included all cleanups, Bag It Viewing and the canceled Town Hall event. Fliers were distributed throughout the town at businesses, community locations, and a limited amount through door-to-door canvassing. Articles in the Town of Forest Heights newsletter and Branch Avenue in Bloom newsletter also aided in the discussion of the project, sharing information about the activities, and recruiting new stakeholders.

People Reached:

  • Potomac River Watershed Cleanup: 40.
  • Forest Heights Elementary School Cleanup: 400.
  • Lynn Hill Condominium Cleanup: 30.
  • Forest Heights Sports Day: 30.
  • Forest Heights Day: 50.
  • Forest Heights Stream Cleanup in August: 44.
  • Bag It Viewing: 6.
  • Branch Ave Day: 100.
  • Multiple Presentations and activities with Town's after school enrichment program: 60.
  • Civic Association presentation: 60.
  • CleanUp GreenUp event on Branch Ave: 40

Most significant lessons learned

While the results of the opinon survey are encouraging, it is also recognized that for lasting behavior change to occur, sustained engagement will need to occur. In the upcoming year of outreach, the lessons learned over the past year will be incorporated into the activities. These lessons learned would also be useful across a range of behavior change campaigns.

  1. Expand outreach beyond the limits of the town.
    1. The focus of this project was widespread throughout the community with outreach to schools, businesses, community organizations, faith-based institutions, and town government. While some successes have been made within the schools through the Trash Free School project, outreach efforts in other aspects of the community have been challenged by a lack of central engagement in the town. Additionally, as people move throughout the area, they cross across several communities and neighboring towns, utilizing the surrounding business corridors and communities for a variety of daily activities. Recognizing this early on, AFF expanded to have broader campaign coverage and partnership across the neighboring communities. The Trash Free Community will be a link between them, serving to inspire litter reduction and community pride.
  2. Identify more community organizations for collaboration.
    1. With limited organizations in Forest Heights, AFF began working with several neighboring community organizations including Branch Avenue in Bloom and Hillcrest/Marlow Heights Civic Association. Both of these organizations have been working to address the litter and illegal dumping problem in their communities, and were eager to increase collaboration, helping to create a network of Trash Free Communities in the area. Churches were identified in the opinion surveys as the most frequent community organisation that residents engage with. Movement to engage the churches was slow, but progress began to be seen towards the end of this project. Continued efforts will be made to find ways to partner.
  3. Capitalize on local government initiatives.
    1. In 2012, Prince George's County Executive, Rushern Baker, announced a new program, Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative. This program aims to solve multiple issues: health, crime, education, transportation- through comprehensive and concentrated efforts. Six areas in the county were targeted, two of which were adjacent to the Town of Forest Heights. Upon learning of this project, AFF reached out to the leaders of those two areas and both were eager to collaborate. As activities being to increase in those areas, litter prevention will be a critical component to a comprehensive neighborhood transformation.
  4. Identify more secure locations for displaying materials.
    1. The large visual materials help to increase the redundancy of the outreach activities, but in order for them to be successful, AFF will need to determine more secure locations. For school display, towards the end of the term of this project, some progress was made on gaining permission for display of materials in schools. This avenue will continue to be pursued.
  5. Develop action plan with community organizations.
    1. To assist in tracking meetings and opportunities for engagement, AFF has created a questionaire that will be helpful in sparking ideas, planning activities, and tracking progress when working with a new organization. WHile this questionair was not utilized in this project it was identified as a need for future community actitvies. The lessons learned in this community guided its development. AFF will utilize it when approaching any new organization or community.