Decades of ads asking New Yorkers not to litter

Littergarbagecan“Keep New York clean” the tagline on city garbage cans tells us.

It’s just the latest in a long history of ad campaigns to get residents to stop littering.

The early appeals focused on the health consequences of garbage, as this ad sponsored by the Fifth Avenue Association (a commercial group organized to keep factories off Fifth Avenue) makes clear.


Cleanliness for cleanliness’ sake seems to be the message in this 1936 campaign, sponsored by the Department of Sanitation.

Did the Sanitation heads really enlist kids to be “junior inspectors” and spread the word about proper trash disposal?


Littering on the subway and inside stations was called out too. I’m not sure when this ad came out, but it was produced by the IRT, which went out of business in 1940.


A giant waste basket in the middle Times Square shaming New Yorkers for their poor littering habits seems like a pretty effective tactic. This photo was taken in 1955.


Did the campaign work? Probably not—as anyone who remembers a trash-filled, littered New York in the 1970s can attest.

At least we’ve come a long way from throwing food and other waste in the street, expecting feral pigs to come along and clean it up for us, as New Yorkers actually did well into the 19th century!

 [Photos: NYC Municipal Archives; top photo: Shutterstock]


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5 Responses to “Decades of ads asking New Yorkers not to litter”

  1. Tom B Says:

    Why do so many of the current NYC bloggers and posts reject today’s relatively cleaner and safer NYC and long for the filthy 70’s?

    A NYC tourist.

  2. Ricky Says:

    Still, too often, I see people literally 3 feet from a waste basket just drop their trash on the sidewalk. I really just can’t understand why.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, it’s strange. Why not make your neighborhood a little nicer by keeping it clean?

  4. Dave Says:

    It’s probably the sharp increase in poverty since the 70s that makes them nostalgic, along with the way so much of Manhattan has been taken over by the incredibly wealthy, who let most of it alone back then.

  5. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    Does Dave really mean that? Honestly; I can’t tell!
    Does Tom B really mean that people are longing for the “70’s?
    Is that sarcasm?

    I don’t get it!

    I lived in NYC for one year in 1969 (September) to May 1970!

    Incinerators burned the trash…..there was more trash on the streets than you could believe. My pink coat lasted one week! It was completely ruined by the ash in the air.

    I fled.

    I love New York; Now I live in Santa Barbara California. We pick up (my family (especially my grandchildren) ; wherever we walk!”

    Litter is pernicious; and a wonderful way to teach children is to “let’s pick that up; and leave this better than we found it!”

    signs? Appeal to young people? teaching in schools… will be all about the young!
    It is much improved from 1970! That is for sure!!


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