Littering is terrible for the environment for a number of reasons. Much of what is littered (chip packets, plastic containers, gum) is not biodegradable. If it isn’t blown away on the breeze or picked up by a hapless animal, it will become embedded into the ground for millennia. The littered item can be carried by storm drains into rivers or the oceans, where it interferes both with local species and ecosystems as a whole.
For instance, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a scattering of floating “islands”, comprised entirely of often littered trash – bits of plastic, empty soda bottles, and plastic bags.
Aside from the obvious hugely negative environmental impact, more specific effects of the Garbage Patch include entanglement and consequent drowning death of wildlife (seals, sea turtles, dolphins), animals mistaking the trash for food, eating it and dying (sea turtles, for instance, see plastic bags as jellyfish), and plastic leaching toxins into the water.
In addition to the great facts listed above, litter encourages pest animals, such as rats, and can enable the spread of disease as these animals multiply, fed off of trash and litter food. Litter is also unsightly, and can decrease the value placed on green or open spaces that may be susceptible to litter accumulation, such as parks or forest areas. Litter also has a significant impact on water health, and can have serious consequences for aquatic creatures who try to eat it. Certain kinds of litter can even decrease the level of oxygen in water when it begins to decay.
Items that are littered are harmful the environment because of the above reasons but consider some other little facts. If you throw a cup on the ground, it is not in the proper place for mother nature to degrade the product therefore it will take decades upon decades to properly biodegrade. This in turn creates the problems like floating garbage in the ocean. If we create mass, then don’t properly dispose of the mass, it takes up space that could be dangerous for habitat and the wildlife that lives on that habitat.
Decreasing litter does have influence on where trash ends up, and can prevent some of the localized pollution of sensitive areas, such as waterways or animal habitats. It also has the benefit of making our surroundings more pleasant. It is important to remember, however, that decreasing litter does not necessarily decrease trash production. It can be a limitation of an anti-littering campaign to focus exclusively on controlling where citizens place their trash, and ignoring how much trash is produced by its citizenry, and how that waste is eventually processed, though now out of sight. Directing the waste stream to designated waste handling facilities, through placing it in trash receptacles rather than onto the ground, can lead to improved, more thoughtful processing of the waste. However, it is important to not forget that the waste still exists, and its presence in landfills or incinerators continues to have negative environmental effects.
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