An analysis of roadside garbage, 36th St. between Indian School and Campbell roads, Phoenix, Arizona


Roadside garbage provides an insight into the occupations, cultures, and patterns of people that inhabit an area. Fifty items of garbage were surveyed along 36th street on March 6, 2010 in order to learn more about the local society.

Study area

36th street is a minor, two-lane road in Phoenix, Arizona, bordered by both businesses and residences. Traffic along the road is moderate, and includes personal and commercial vehicles. The road also serves as a bicycle route, and sees a relatively high amount of pedestrian travel.

The study area began about 200 yards north of Indian School Road in order to mitigate the influence of trash originating from the more major road. The study ended after recording the first 50 items of garbage seen when walking a linear path. In this case, 50 items were recorded over a linear distance of about 200 yards.


Sampling was done by walking along the sidewalk, and cataloging the first 50 items of garbage observed. For this study, “garbage” is defined as any material on the ground that is either manmade or exists in its location because of human action or negligence, and is in a location that is not its intended purpose. Thus, garbage in trash receptacles is excluded, as is natural material that arrived at its location through non-human activities. For example, most leaves are not garbage, but a pile of leaves that spilled from a truck are considered garbage. Bird waste is not considered garbage, but dog waste is, because of a dog’s existence as a domesticated animal.

When an item of garbage was fragmented, and the fragments were found in the same general area, it was considered as a single item. For example, a spilled box of candy is considered one item, instead of counting each piece of candy separately.

After cataloging 50 items of garbage, items were classified by category. Categories describe the primary origin of each item. Assigned categories are:

Tobacco: This category includes all items related to the consumption of both smoke and smokeless tobacco. This includes cigarette butts, lighters, matchbooks, cartons, and containers.

Food: This category includes all items related to the consumption of food or beverages. This includes food items, food packaging, eating utensils and their packaging, gum, cartons, and conveyances.

Business/commerce: This category includes all items related to the promotion of a business or commercial enterprise. Included are advertisements, business cards, money,or receipts.

Transportation: Any item related to vehicular transportation falls under this category. This includes automobile or bicycle parts and public transportation tickets.

Other domestic: Any item of general household use falls into this category. Examples are detergent cartons, clothing, and other household products.

Health/hygiene: This category includes all products used to maintain human health. Included are toothbrushes, medicine and containers, condoms, and cosmetics.

Other unidentified: Any item that could not be identified resides in this category. Examples include small or decomposed bits of paper, small scraps of plastic or metal, or items whose origins could be from multiple categories – such as bolts or screws.

Items were placed into the most specific category in which it relates. For example, a cereal box could be considered a general domestic item, but it more closely matches the more specific category of “food”.


A graphical representation of the number of items in each category is presented here.

By far, the largest contributor to roadside garbage is tobacco, with 58% of the items seen related to tobacco use. Food items were the second largest identified category, making up 12% of the items seen. 16% of the items were unidentifiable, composed of mostly degraded paper.


The high percentage of tobacco and food related items may be influenced by the proximity of the study area to a convenience store along Indian School road, approximately 200 yards from the section of 36th investigated. Tobacco and food-related garbage could also relate to the proximity of bus stops along Indian School Road. Busses do not permit eating or smoking, and perhaps the first activity for people leaving the bus is to eat or smoke. The refuse from these activities is left along 36th street. Additional insight could be gained by comparing the garbage along 36th street to similar analysis along different roads or in different neighborhoods.

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