Keep America Beautiful

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Keep America Beautiful's famous 1971 Ad Campaign, featuring Iron Eyes Cody, the "Crying Indian"

Keep America Beautiful is a Stamford, Connecticut based non profit organization founded in 1953. It is the largest community improvement organization in the United States, with more than 620 state and community-based affiliate organizations (similar to local chapters) and more than 1,000 community organizations that participate in their programs.

Keep America Beautiful focuses on three key issues: litter prevention, waste reduction/recycling and community greening and beautification. This is accomplished through a combination of community organizing, public education and the fostering of public/private partnerships.


Keep America Beautiful was founded in 1953 by a consortium of American businesses (including founding members Philip Morris, Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola), nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and concerned individuals[1] 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 service announcement (PSA) campaigns.

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", as opposed to the New York Transit Authority.[2] It was, however, coined by Paul B. Gioni, a copywriter in New York City who originated it for The American 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 also wrote the copy for 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 ad", 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, 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 580 local "Keep My Town Beautiful" organizations nationwide. By the end of the campaign, locals had succeeded in reducing litter by 88%.[3]

In 1999, Keep America Beautiful introduced an annual "Great American Cleanup" campaign. Like its predecessor, the program focuses on local efforts at beautification. Volunteers organize to clean up litter and illegal dumpsites in their communities, as well as remove graffiti, and plant trees, flowers and community gardens.


Keep America Beautiful is a highly rated nonprofit, achieving 4-star (top) ranking by independent organization Charity Navigator and is an EarthShare member charity.

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 2010, the Great American Cleanup annual signature event organized 3.9 million volunteers, who donated more than 5.7 million hours to improve more than 33,700 communities in all 50 states. The effort removed 76 million pounds of litter from landscapes and waterways, recycled 15.3 million pounds of metals, 91.5 million pounds of newsprint, 1.1 million tires and 7.2 million pounds of electronics.[7]


Engaging individuals to take greater responsibility for improving their community environments.

Focus areas[edit]

  • Waste Reduction and Recycling
  • Litter Prevention
  • Beautification and Community Greening


Great American Cleanup[edit]

The Great American Cleanup, a nationwide program of KAB, takes place annually from March 1 through May 31, involving an estimated 3.9 million volunteers and participants. The program logged more than 5.7 million volunteer hours in 2010, with events in 33,700 communities. Activities include litter and illegal dumpsite clean-ups, park and trail maintenance, marine debris removal, recycling collections, tree plantings, community gardening, educational programs and litter-free events.

America Recycles Day[edit]

America Recycles Day, held each year on November 15, is the only nationally recognized day and community-driven awareness event dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling in the United States. Nationally, thousands of organizations hold events to educate people about recycling resources in their community. Through recycling collection drives, demonstrations, competitions, tours, displays and other awareness-raising events, citizens are encouraged to increase their recycling at home, at school, in the office and in the community at-large.

As the national steward of America Recycles Day, Keep America Beautiful provides a network of volunteer organizers in every state with resources and promotional materials to support their local outreach.


Recycle-Bowl (a program of KAB) is a competition and benchmarking tool for K-12 school recycling programs to promote waste reduction activities. School recycling programs across the nation compete in a race to collect the most recyclables.

The competition is open to all elementary, middle and high schools and individual classrooms. Public, private and charter schools are eligible. Recycle-Bowl participants track and report how much material they collect during the four-week competition timeframe in the fall semester. School-wide competitions may compete for national prizes.


RecycleMania is a friendly competition and benchmarking tool for college and university recycling programs to promote waste reduction activities to their campus communities. Over an 8- week period each spring, schools report recycling and trash data which are then ranked according to collected recyclables per capita, total recyclables, recycling rate, and the least amount of trash per capita. While the stated goal for RecycleMania is to have a fair and friendly recycling competition, the program’s underlying value is to help campuses increase recycling and waste reduction activity by raising awareness among students and staff and by providing the catalyst for colleges and universities to build and expand their programs on campus. RecycleMania participation in many cases puts a recycling program on the front page of the campus paper, helping to build administrative recognition and support. It also provides a promotional opportunity to showcase new collection or waste reduction activities. By focusing on performance metrics, the program encourages campus efforts to benchmark improvement over time.

RecycleMania began in 2001 when the recycling coordinators at Ohio University and Miami University, looking for a way to motivate their campuses, challenged each other to see which one could collect the most recycling. Miami went on to beat Ohio that first year and RecycleMania was born. RecycleMania has been gaining momentum ever since, involving 630 campuses in 2011. RecycleMania is a trademarked program of the RecycleMania Steering Committee, with management support provided by Keep America Beautiful.

Littering Is Wrong Too[edit]

Launched largely online in 2011, the Littering is Wrong Too campaign utilizes social media, street teams and viral marketing to engage young adults in an untraditional dialogue about litter. It links littering with other undeniable—and often humorous—wrongdoings, such as eating "gas station sushi", "texting during surgery" or giving a kid "sugar at bedtime".

The campaign is designed to create a dialogue about the problem of litter, creating a foundation to build awareness and affect long-term behavior change. The campaign is being executed across the country through Keep America Beautiful’s national network of affiliates, which bring the campaign to the streets at public events and through traditional media.

Cigarette Litter Prevention[edit]

In response to data showing cigarette butts to be by far the most commonly littered item in America, KAB launched a national Cigarette Litter Prevention Program in 2003. The campaign targets areas most likely to be littered by smokers known as "transition points", or areas adjacent to entryways, transit stations, or public spaces where smoking is not allowed. Dining and entertainment districts, where large numbers of smokers tend to congregate outdoors, are also targeted. The program provides framework and incentives to local organizations (KAB affiliates, chambers of commerce, downtown associations, business improvement districts, etc.) to place ash receptacles in appropriate locations and to provide public education on the issue of cigarette litter. Since its inception, the program has resulted in average reductions of 45% in the areas where it has been implemented.

Classroom programs and youth education[edit]

KAB provides resources for teachers, after-school programs, homeschooling and other educational settings. Its "Waste In Place" module on solid waste management was created in 1978 and has undergone several subsequent updates and revisions. In 2002, the organization launched an online version of "Waste In Place" titled "CleanSweepUSA" featuring animated characters, online games and video.

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, Ocean Conservancy, Sustainable Urban Forests Coalition, and Take Pride in America, among others.[8]

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."[9] [10]


Heather Rogers, creator of the 2005 documentary film Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage and book of the same name,[11] 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.[12][13]

The Keep America Beautiful 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.[11]

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.[14]

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 polices at parks and beaches. [15] The tobacco industry has funded Keep America Beautiful [15] and similar organizations internationally.[16]

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".[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Story of Language, 1949, Lippincott, ISBN 0-397-00400-1
  3. ^ a b c Ad Council : Pollution: Keep America Beautiful - Iron Eyes Cody (1961-1983)
  4. ^ Clip: Littering Public Service Announcement 1963
  5. ^ Clip: Littering PSA Susan Spotless 1964
  6. ^ Pollution: Keep America Beautiful - Iron Eyes Cody (1961-1983)
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Keep America Beautiful". Boy Scouts of America. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  10. ^ "Keep America Beautiful Hometown USA Award Application" (PDF). Boy Scouts of America. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved 6 February 2018.
  11. ^ a b Ariane Conrad Hyde (2005-04-01). "Litterbug World". AlterNet. Retrieved 2008-05-20.
  12. ^ "Keep America Beautiful: A History",
  13. ^ Wilkins, Matt, "More Recycling Won't Solve Plastic Pollution", Scientific American blog, July 6, 2018. Retrieved 2018-07-10.
  14. ^ Garbage Land page 184
  15. ^ 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: 100–106. doi:10.1136/tc.2010.036491.
  16. ^ Wallbank, Lucinda A.; MacKenzie, Ross; Beggs, Paul J. (April 2017). "Environmental impacts of tobacco product waste: International and Australian policy responses". Ambio. 46: 100=106. doi:10.1007/s13280-016-0851-0. PMC 5347528. PMID 27844421.
  17. ^ Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Thursday, May 4, 1967 - Page 5

External links[edit]