Keep America Beautiful

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Keep America Beautiful's famous 1971 Ad Campaign, featuring Italian- American actor Iron Eyes Cody as the "Crying Indian"

Keep America Beautiful is a Stamford, Connecticut-based nonprofit organization founded in 1953. It is the largest community improvement organization in the United States, with more than 600 state and community-based affiliate organizations and more than 1,000 partner organizations.

Keep America Beautiful says that it aims to end littering, to improve recycling, and to beautify American communities.[1]

The organization has been heavily criticized as a greenwashing corporate front. The organization's narrow focus on litter is alleged to divert public responsibility away from corporations and industries.


Keep America Beautiful was founded in December 1953 by a group of American businesses (including companies such as American Can Company, Continental Can Company, Owens-Illinois Glass Co.), nonprofit organizations (Izaak Walton League of America, National Council of State Garden Clubs, U.S. Brewers Foundation), government agencies (Connecticut State Highway Dept., N.Y. State Department of Public Works), and concerned individuals[2] in reaction to the growing problem of highway litter that followed the construction of the Interstate Highway System, and an increasingly mobile and convenience-oriented American consumer. The original goal of the organization was to reduce litter through public education, including public service announcement (PSA) campaigns, and engage tri-sector partnerships through the support of industry, government and nonprofits.

Keep America Beautiful conducted many local PSA campaigns early in its history. One of these early campaigns in Pennsylvania (PENNDOT) some attribute to having coined the term "litterbug," although the National Council of State Garden Clubs representative exhibited a "litter bug" emblem at the first Keep America Beautiful organizational meeting. Others report, however, that the term was coined by Paul B. Gioni, a copywriter in New York City who originated it for the Advertising Council, known as the Ad Council, in 1947. Keep America Beautiful joined with the Ad Council in 1961 to dramatize the idea that every individual must help protect against the effects litter has on the environment.[3]. Gioni came up with the popular television campaign theme in 1963, "Every Litter Bit Hurts."[4] Another campaign in 1964 featured the character Susan Spotless.[5]

In 1970, Keep America Beautiful began distributing a free brochure. More than 100,000 copies of the brochure were requested within four months.

In 1971, a new campaign was launched on Earth Day with the theme, "People Start Pollution. People Can Stop It." In what became known as the "Crying Indian" PSA, the television ad, narrated by actor William Conrad, featured actor Iron Eyes Cody, who portrayed a Native American man devastated to see the destruction of the earth's natural beauty caused by the thoughtless pollution and litter of a modern society.[6]

In 1975, Keep America Beautiful introduced its "Clean Community System," which encouraged local communities to prevent litter through education efforts, public service advertising, local research, mapping of litter "hotspots," and cleanup activities. During the height of the campaign, it received over 2,000 letters a month from people wanting to join their local programs.[3] The "Clean Community System" evolved into Keep America Beautiful's current network of roughly 600 state and community-based affiliates nationwide.

In 1999, Keep America Beautiful introduced an annual "Great American Cleanup" campaign. The national spring cleanup focuses on local efforts at beautification. Volunteers organize to remove litter and debris from roadsides, highways, shorelines and waterways; plant trees, flowers and community gardens; clean and restore nature trails, recreation areas and playgrounds; recycle aluminum cans, plastic bottles, electronics, paper products, scrap tires, and clothing; rebuild public spaces in communities struck by natural disasters; and much more.

In 2018, the 65th anniversary of Keep America Beautiful, the nonprofit reintroduced itself to America with a new PSA – “Let’s Talk About America” – which has been aired more than 115,000 times and received more than 1 billion media impressions to date.


The organization is best known historically for the "Crying Indian" public service advertisement (PSA) which launched on Earth Day in 1971. This advertising campaign has been widely credited, including in Frank Lowenstein's "Voices of Protest" with inspiring America's fledgling environmental movement.

Keep America Beautiful was the first organization to bring littering to national attention. It made "litterbug” a household word.

In 2018, the Great American Cleanup, the nation's largest community improvement program, celebrated its 20th year. Keep America Beautiful, along with network of affiliates and partner organizations, engaged volunteers across the country who logged 9.4 million volunteer hours in helping to clean public spaces; improve and beautify roads, shorelines and waterways; and plant trees, flowers, and gardens. In total, 24.7 million pounds of litter and 68 million pounds of recyclables were collected.

Focus areas[edit]

  • End littering
  • Improve recycling
  • Beautify communities


Cigarette Litter Prevention Program[edit]

The Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP), created by Keep America Beautiful in 2002, is the nation's largest program aimed at eliminating cigarette litter. Since its inception, the program has been successfully implemented in more than 1,700 communities nationwide. Throughout its history, the CLPP has helped reduce cigarette litter in the communities in which it has been implemented by an average of 50 percent. Recognizing the presence of ash receptacles correlates with lower rates of cigarette butt littering, Keep America Beautiful has placed 10,000 litter stands in public settings through 2019.

Community Restoration and Resiliency[edit]

The Keep America Beautiful Community Restoration and Resiliency Fund (CRRF) was launched in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey’s historic flooding in Texas and Louisiana and prior to Hurricane Irma coming ashore in Florida. Managed and administered by Keep America Beautiful, the fund provides long-term support in the form of grants to rebuild public spaces, such as parks, greenways, community gateways, main streets, downtown areas, and open spaces.


Plogging, the act of picking up litter while jogging, debuted in Sweden in 2016 and was adopted by Keep America Beautiful in 2018 as it incorporates reducing litter, improving recycling, and beautifying communities – the three primary areas of work that Keep America Beautiful and its network of more than 600 community-based affiliates focus on. In 2019, Keep America Beautiful hosted its inaugural Trash Dash, a 5K plogging event in Connecticut, which resulted in the collection of more than 700 pounds of litter and recyclables.

Youth and Education[edit]

Waste in Place is the Keep America Beautiful educational resource developed for prekindergarten through 12th grade students and educators. KAB Schools is a youth initiative offering schools educational programs. There are three learning service-learning projects, including a Waste Audit, Litter Free Places, and Trashless Tree Trails.

Partnership with other organizations[edit]

KAB delivers programming and materials through a network of organizations. In addition to KAB's certified affiliates, the organization partners with other groups to expand its reach. These include multiple State Recycling Organizations, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Hands On Network and the Points of Light Institute, the Arbor Day Foundation, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, National CleanUp Day, Ocean Conservancy, Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition, and Take Pride in America, among others.[7]

Scouting Keep America Beautiful Day was first cosponsored by Keep America Beautiful and the Boy Scouts of America in 1971 as a massive national cleanup and recycling program. Keep America Beautiful also co-sponsors the "Keep America Beautiful Hometown USA Award" with the Boy Scouts of America that boy scouts can earn by completing a non-paid, community service project (minimum of eight hours of time, two of which must involve management planning, with the other six hours consisting of carrying out the project), with the approved scout project being designed to "help keep America beautiful and benefit the community either physically or financially."[8] [9]


Heather Rogers, creator of the 2005 documentary film Gone Tomorrow. The Hidden Life of Garbage and book of the same name,[10] classifies Keep America Beautiful as one of the first greenwashing corporate fronts, alleging that the group was created in response to Vermont's 1953 attempt to legislate a mandatory deposit to be paid at point of purchase on disposable beverage containers and banning the sale of beer in non-refillable bottles.[11][12]

Keep America Beautiful's narrow focus on litter, and indeed construction of the modern concept of litter, is seen as an attempt to divert responsibility from industries that manufacture and sell disposable products to the consumer that improperly disposes of the related non-returnable wrappers, filters, and beverage containers.[10]

Elizabeth Royte author of Garbage Land, describes Keep America Beautiful as a "masterful example of corporate greenwash", writing that in contrast to its anti-litter campaigns, it ignores the potential of recycling legislation and resists changes to packaging.[13]

The tobacco industry developed programs with Keep America Beautiful that focused on cigarette litter solutions acceptable to the tobacco industry such as volunteer clean-ups and ashtrays, instead of smokefree policies at parks and beaches.[14] The tobacco industry has funded Keep America Beautiful[14] and similar organizations internationally.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

The "Crying Indian" ad has been parodied on Married... with Children, Wayne's World 2, The Simpsons episode "Trash of the Titans", the Futurama episode "Where the Buggalo Roam", the Farrelly brothers movie Kingpin, the South Park episode "Go Fund Yourself", The League episode "Yobogoya," the Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law episode "Back to the Present," and the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episode "Kimmy Finds Her Mom!". The ad was also parodied in an E-Trade commercial that aired during Super Bowl XXXV in 2001.

Lassie was featured and recruited in helping to Keep America Beautiful by Lady Bird Johnson as the Nation's Mascot and War Against Litter in the beautification campaign. Lassie is in a poster with a forest ranger and the caption reads: "Help Lassie Keep America Beautiful".[16]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "What We Do". Keep America Beautiful. 2016-01-27. Retrieved 2019-10-04.
  2. ^ "Keep America Beautiful".
  3. ^ a b "Ad Council : Pollution: Keep America Beautiful - Iron Eyes Cody (1961-1983)". Archived from the original on 2008-10-30. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  4. ^ "Clip: Littering Public Service Announcement 1963". Archived from the original on 2008-12-04. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  5. ^ "Clip: Littering PSA Susan Spotless 1964". Archived from the original on 2008-11-21. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  6. ^ "Pollution: Keep America Beautiful - Iron Eyes Cody (1961-1983)". Archived from the original on 2008-10-30. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  7. ^ "Keep America Beautiful".
  8. ^ "Keep America Beautiful". Boy Scouts of America. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  9. ^ "Keep America Beautiful Hometown USA Award Application" (PDF). Boy Scouts of America. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  10. ^ a b Ariane Conrad Hyde (2005-04-01). "Litterbug World". AlterNet. Retrieved 2008-05-20.
  11. ^ "Keep America Beautiful: A History",
  12. ^ Wilkins, Matt, "More Recycling Won't Solve Plastic Pollution", Scientific American blog, July 6, 2018. Retrieved 2018-07-10.
  13. ^ Garbage Land page 184
  14. ^ a b Smith, Elizabeth A.; McDaniel, Patricia A. (March 2011). "Covering their butts: responses to the cigarette litter problem". Tobacco Control. BMJ Publishing Group Ltd. 20 (2): 100–106. doi:10.1136/tc.2010.036491. PMC 3209806. PMID 20966130.
  15. ^ Wallbank, Lucinda A.; MacKenzie, Ross; Beggs, Paul J. (April 2017). "Environmental impacts of tobacco product waste: International and Australian policy responses". Ambio. 46 (3): 361–370. doi:10.1007/s13280-016-0851-0. PMC 5347528. PMID 27844421.
  16. ^ Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Thursday, May 4, 1967 - Page 5