Ecology’s Award-Winning Litter Prevention Campaign Calls for Public Support


OLYMPIA, WA – The Washington Department of Ecology’s 2022 statewide litter study, the first one done in almost 20 years, made several shocking findings: Not only did it show that nearly 38 million pounds of waste accumulates each year, but Washington’s roads have more litter per mile than the national average. The We Keep WA Litter Free campaign (Por Un WA Impecable) is working to address these issues by changing the behaviors that lead to littering in the first place.

According to Ecology’s director Laura Watson, the public has an important role to play when it comes to the state’s litter issue.

From the Department of Ecology:

Our statewide litter prevention coordinator Amber Smith-Jones agrees, and adds that “Preventing litter from ending up on the ground is by far more effective, and less expensive, than paying crews or arranging for volunteers to pick it up.”

Ecology and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), spend nearly $12 million combined on litter cleanup every year. Last year, this substantial effort accounted for 7.4 million pounds of litter – less than one-fifth of the annual total.

Using innovative marketing to change behaviors.

The We Keep WA Litter Free campaign is not your average marketing endeavor. It uses a  social marketing framework to help create meaningful and sustainable behavior change. This researched-based strategy  shows that awareness and education alone are largely unsuccessful in altering people’s behaviors.

To inspire real behavior changes, we first sought to understand why people litter, what barriers they have to stop littering, and what would motivate them to change. We conducted extensive audience research and message testing in both English and Spanish.

With the help of WSDOT, Washington State Patrol, Washington Traffic Safety Commission and many local governments, Ecology kicked off the We Keep WA Litter Free campaign in 2021. The campaign uses positive messaging that empowers people to change their behavior and join the 75% of Washingtonians who never litter. There is also a robust Litter Prevention Partner Toolkit that state agencies, local governments, non-profits and others use to amplify the campaign in their communities.

Secure Your Load for Safer Roads (Cargas Bien Sujetadas, Caminos Más Seguros)

An officer from the Washington State Patrol talks about the importance of securing your load.

Beginning in  2021, the Secure your Load for Safer Roads (Cargas Bien Sujetadas, Caminos Más Seguros) campaign launched with the help of the Washington State Patrol. It focuses on properly covering and securing cargo to increase road safety and reduce litter. Items falling or blowing out of unsecured loads cause more than 300 traffic crashes each year in Washington, including 5 fatalities in 2022 and an estimated 40% of roadside litter.

We give out cargo nets through partnerships with local governments. Partners measure unsecured loads entering their solid waste facilities before and after the campaign, and again one year later. The decrease in unsecure loads measured the first year averaged 3.5%, and an additional 1% decrease the following year.

Those who receive a cargo net also fill out a follow-up survey. According to the survey, 91% of people said the campaign made it easier to secure their load and 83% are likely or extremely likely to talk with others about securing loads.

Simple As That (Asi De Simple)

A hand reaches to put trash in a car litter bag.

The Simple As That (Asi De Simple) campaign began in 2021 and it is centered around the reduction of intentional littering on roadways. Using humor, it demonstrates just how easy it is to not litter and to use a car litter bag.

Our research identified “not having a trash bag in the car” as one of the main reasons people litter. That prompted us to distribute over 26,000 free car litter bags through Washington Fred Meyer stores.

Those who received a litter bag were also given a follow-up survey. That survey indicated 80% of people who received a litter bag now properly dispose of their trash always or often.

Partnering with Seattle hockey professional, Yanni Gourde

Professional hockey player Yanni Gourde talks to media about the We Keep WA Litter Free campaign outside the Climate Pledge Arena.

On Sept. 18, we began the next phase of the We Keep WA Litter campaign by adding Seattle hockey star Yanni Gourde to our team. Gourde is partnering with us to create social media content that brings more attention to preventing litter and shows his fans how to get involved.

“Keeping Washington litter free is important to me because my family is part of this community, and this is the place where my kids are growing up,” said Gourde at the We Keep WA Litter Free media event on Sept. 7. “As a professional athlete in Washington, I know how special this state is and how powerful we are as a community when we work together toward a common goal.”

We’re giving away more free car litter bags at participating grocery stores across the state through a new partnership with the Washington Food Industry Association and distributor URM. Since our previous car litter bag giveaways with Fred Meyer primarily served the Puget Sound region, this round’s participating stores are mostly in Central and Eastern Washington. Locations can be found by using our interactive map or list of stores, sorted by city.

Campaign commercials win prestigious awards two years in a row

Three award statues on display.

We are so proud of the We Keep WA Litter Free campaign and all the diverse partners supporting it. We are thrilled to share that our Simple As That commercial received a 2023 Silver Telly Award in the Regional TV – Public Service category. This achievement follows last year’s 2022 Bronze Telly Award in the same category for the We Keep WA Litter Free Small Choices, Big Impact commercial.

The Telly Awards annually showcase the best work created within local, regional and cable television, as well as across video platforms for all screens. Receiving over 12,000 entries from all 50 states and 5 continents, Telly Award winners represent work from some of the most respected advertising agencies, television stations, production companies and publishers worldwide.

We are also proud to announce that the Simple As That campaign was a finalist for a Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Silver Anvil Award and received their Award of Excellence. The campaign also earned a 2023 Summit Award from the PRSA Washington Chapter. This award recognizes programs that demonstrate excellence in public relations.

We are so grateful to win such incredible awards, but our long-term goal is litter prevention. Ecology, the public, everyone has a part to play in keeping Washington beautiful and litter free.