When I see a beverage container tossed by the side of the road, I cringe and I know you do, too. While studies show that beverage containers make up only a small portion of roadside litter, they are the component most recognized and remembered by the public. That's why the beverage industry has a responsibility to be concerned about litter and involved in educational programs that prevent it.

Keep America Beautiful Inc., the nation's leading, grassroots litter prevention organization, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors are working on a national initiative to bring new insight and renewed energy to the effort to fight litter and other forms of readily preventable environmental blight in cities.

In April of this year, the two groups introduced the KAB/USCM Urban Litter Partnership during a special meeting of the nation's mayors, held in conjunction with Gen. Colin Powell and his organization, America's Promise - the Alliance for Youth.

"Littering costs all of us dearly," said G. Raymond Empson, president of Keep America Beautiful Inc. "City governments spend billions of dollars on litter clean-up that could be spent on education, housing, programs for youth and the elderly, and many other worthy local priorities."

Evidence is now emerging in cities that litter and other forms of preventable environmental blight, such as graffiti and illegally dumped garbage, can seriously impede a community's efforts to address other more complex challenges like crime and economic development. According to the "broken window" theory, developed by political scientist James Q. Wilson and criminologist George L. Kelling, there is a strong relationship between a badly littered neighborhood and a crime-ridden one. According to this theory, when people see that broken windows, litter, graffiti, legal dumping, and other acts of negative behavior are tolerated, a downward spiral of deterioration is set in motion.

"With billions of dollars now being devoted to urban revitalization across America, we simply cannot afford this vital investment being undermined, now or in the future, by the continuing recurrence of littering in city centers and urban neighborhoods," said Empson.

KAB and USCM will be working with KAB affiliates, local municipal officials, and experts in the field of litter and litter prevention to gather available data and research on the causes and effects of littering in urban settings. The partners will identify existing programs that successfully promote long-term litter prevention in cities from within the KAB network of local affiliates and among other local organizations. As part of the research, USCM is surveying member cities and conducting a Litter Prevention Forum in Denver this month.

In Spring 1999, a National Litter Summit will be held to bring together leading experts and practitioners in the area of litter prevention to share information on existing best practices, and provide momentum for new cleanup and community improvement projects at the urban grassroots level across the nation.

Houston will be a demonstration and research site for the project. The city, in partnership with Keep Houston Beautiful, began training for the program with a Clean Neighborhoods workshop in August. The Houston pilot project will be documented to help develop "best practices" for preventing litter in urban areas. Opinion research will also be conducted, both before and 12 months after the Clean Neighborhoods program is launched.

"We believe this program will build a sense of community pride and raise the quality of life in Houston neighborhoods," said Mayor Lee Brown, when he announced the program. "By encouraging volunteerism, we will build neighborhood pride. By focusing on our neighborhoods, we will preserve the uniqueness of individual communities. By developing a model of government and business working with volunteers from diverse neighborhoods, we will solve common urban problems.

Nationally, a first phase report will be issued detailing progress in Houston and summarizing the gathered research within 15 months. The key end results of the effort will include:

• A new level of understanding on the urban litter issue and on the effects litter can have on other city priorities like crime prevention and economic development;

• New consensus that litter prevention and citizen-driven neighborhood improvement are key drivers in the quality of life;

• A turnkey "tool-kit" providing strategies and materials to help drive local awareness, education and action on urban litter prevention and community improvement that can be made available to municipal authorities and neighborhood groups within two years.

"We consider KAB's local affiliates an invaluable resource for our local mayors," said David Gatton, senior environmental advisor for USCM. "This partnership will enable us to provide cities with proven strategies to prevent litter, graffiti and other forms of environmental blight and thereby protect the investments now being made in urban America."

The KAB/USCM work is being funded by the private sector. Anheuser-Busch and the National Soft Drink Association are among 10 organizations supporting the project. But litter prevention is something everyone can work on in his or her own community. If you already know the KAB coordinator in your area, call now to find out more about the work on litter. If you don't know the KAB affiliate, call KAB at 203/323-8987. You can also find out more about the USCM project from Jennifer De Long at 202/861-6776.