Effects of Littering


What is littering & why is it bad?

Littering is when trash or other waste is discarded incorrectly. This can be as small as dropping a gum wrapper on the ground or as big as companies dumping huge amounts of toxic substances into the water. Whatever the amount however litter harms all of the amazing plants and animals in nature – including humans!

Litter can entangle, suffocate or poison animals which lowers biodiversity. It can contaminate water sources, and, once degraded, can release harmful chemicals and microplastics into water or soil, making it unsafe for everyone.

Birds & Littering

Birds play a huge role in our ecosystem. They are crucial for pollinating and dispersing seeds, which helps keep plant populations alive and growing. Birds also feed on insects, rodents, and other small creatures which helps keep balance in ecosystems.

Often birds consume plastic because it looks and smells like food. Chemicals in this ingested litter can affect the health and well-being of both chicks and adult birds and can cause illness or death. This ingested plastic can also damage their digestive tract or even block their digestive systems, leading to starvation. Littering can also contaminate the water that birds drink, causing health problems or death.

Littering also kills the food of birds (fish, rodents, plants), and damages their habitats which may cause them to move away from their homes and into other areas where they may disrupt the balance of other ecosystems, or end up in areas not suited for nesting. This also paves the way for predators to take advantage of the helpless birds.

Additionally, birds can be prevented from flying due to leftover liquids from hair products or oil bottles which disrupt their delicate plumage. Birds can also get plastic caps or other small pieces of plastic lodged in their beaks or feet. Mesh, nets, and strings can also entangle birds which can injure them, and restrict their movements. Birds commonly develop infections and die from wounds sustained from materials wrapping around them or piercing their skin.

Plants & Littering

Plants are all around us. From our parks to our homes, schools to forests, these beautiful adornments of mother nature are a frequent appearance in our day-to-day life. In their natural state, our parks have an abundance of healthy native plants, rich soil, and natural opportunities for photosynthesis. Sadly, their livelihood is endangered by man-made waste. Garbage is all too frequently discarded in nature, blocking plants from the sun and causing the soil to decrease in important nutrients due to toxic contaminants such as heavy metals. Nutrients and sunlight are vital for a plant to photosynthesize, and photosynthesis is vital for a plant to thrive. By disposing of waste properly, we’re promoting a healthy community of plant biodiversity.

What is photosynthesis?

Photosynthesis is the process in which plants (and some other organisms, such as phytoplankton) synthesize foods from carbon dioxide (C02) and water (H20). This process has the byproduct of oxygen, so its natural way of staying alive is coincidentally helping ours as humans. Neat, right?

Mammals play a very important role in ecosystems and they help by regulating insect populations, seed dispersal, and pollination.

Sadly, mammals are greatly affected by litter. Many mammals consume plastic or other discarded material thinking that it is food. This can cause debris to get stuck in their digestive tract, resulting in starvation. Ingestion of litter can also result in death through the chemicals present in the litter. For example, cigarettes – a very common form of litter – can cause vomiting, respiratory failure, or death if consumed by animals. Mammals can also get poisoned by spoiled food or other harmful substances that can lead to sickness, health problems, or even death for the unfortunate mammals that come into contact with human trash. Around one million animals die each year after ingesting, or becoming entrapped in, improperly discarded trash.

Mammals can also get entangled in plastic bags and other litter which can result in suffocation, starving, or drowning. This also makes it easier for predators to catch and eat them, and many mammals can develop infections from wounds caused by materials piercing their skin or wrapping around them.

Many mammals also die due to drinking contaminated water (see tab on how water is affected by littering) or by their food sources dying (such as plants, fish, and other mammals).

Water & Littering

Water is an essential part of life on Earth. It provides homes for creatures that live in it (such as fish and aquatic plants), gives plants the energy and nutrients necessary to grow, and provides all creatures with crucial minerals and nutrients. Without clean water life on Earth would cease to exist.

Sadly, littering has seriously contaminated and polluted our water sources. Often when trash such as plastic bags, bottles, cans, or cigarettes are discarded they get washed into water sources through natural processes or through storm drains.

Harmful chemicals from litter can get into the water making it unsafe for land animals to drink and can make them very sick. These chemicals can also kill fish and plants, making entire ecosystems barren. Litter also decreases the oxygen levels in water when it decays. Additionally, as litter degrades, chemicals and microplastics are released making water dangerous for all creatures.

Floating litter also often looks like food and can be consumed by fish, or other aquatic or land animals. This can result in injuries, infection, sickness, or death.

Litter in water also frequently causes entanglement which can suffocate animals, cause severe injuries, or restrict movement.

How to Help

Luckily there are many ways that you can help save our beautiful wildlife from the harms of littering!

Do your part to help protect our communities from the harm of litter by…

  • Picking up trash you see
  • Reducing waste and correctly disposing of all trash
  • Supporting environmentally friendly businesses
  • Donating to organizations that aim to protect nature, raise awareness, or educate people on the environment (for example, the Plastic Free Foundation, Save the Bay, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Environmental Volunteers )
  • Composting
  • Buying items made out of environmentally friendly materials, such as compostable or recycled items.
  • Educate peers, family, members, and friends about reducing waste and recycling.
  • Vote and petition for laws that help protect wildlife
  • Volunteer time to clean up beaches, communities, and nature preserves
  • Leave no trace when you visit natural preserves, parks, or when you go fishing
  • Call your local animal control agency if you see any animals entangled in plastic.

About This project

Hello! My name is Rey Snyder and I am a BSA scout from troop 4057. This page and the briefcases are part of a service project that I am leading as part of my final project to become an Eagle Scout – the highest Boy Scouts of America rank.

I am super passionate about the environment and nature. That is why I reached out to Environmental volunteers to see if I could do anything to help their cause as part of my Eagle Project. After talking with their amazing Program Coordinator we decided to go ahead with an interactive project to help educate people on the harms of littering. We decided to make painted briefcase displays that my friends and family helped me paint, which have quick information about how littering affects different aspects of nature at our parks, with links to this page with more info.

I’m super excited to share my project with you and I hope my project helps teach people about littering and makes a difference! If you have any questions about my project feel free to email me with any questions or comments at raesnyder22@gmail.com , if you have any questions about my troop or want to join us, you can look at our website troop57.net , and if you have any questions about Environmental Volunteers or what they do you can visit https://environmentalvolunteers.org/contact-us/ which has all their contact information.

A big thanks to all the people who helped make this project possible!



Works Cited

Sierra Club Home Page: Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet, https://www.sierraclub.org. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Save The Bay: Home, https://savesfbay.org. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page. Accessed 1 April 2022.

“Animal cruelty: Air pollution is deadly, dangerous for wild animals.” USA Today, 28 January 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/01/28/air-pollution-quality-animal-cruelty-column/4589293002/. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Delaney, Paul. “HOW LONG IT TAKES FOR SOME EVERYDAY ITEMS TO DECOMPOSE.” Down2Earth Materials, 14 February 2013, https://www.down2earthmaterials.ie/2013/02/14/decompose/. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Galindo, Sagay. “Breakdown: Why littering can lead to pollution.” Action News 5, 30 June 2021, https://www.actionnews5.com/2021/06/30/breakdown-why-littering-can-lead-pollution/. Accessed 1 April 2022.

George, Jim. “Littering with Leaves.” New Hope Audubon Society, https://www.newhopeaudubon.org/blog/1657/. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Holcomb, Jay. “How Plastics Affect Birds.” International Bird Rescue, https://www.birdrescue.org/our-work/research-and-innovation/how-plastics-affect-birds/. Accessed 1 April 2022.

“How many birds die from plastic pollution?” WWF-Australia, 9 October 2018, https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/how-many-birds-die-from-plastic-pollution. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Hu, Shelia. “Composting 101.” NRDC, 20 July 2020, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/composting-101. Accessed 1 April 2022.

“Join the movement for clean air.” Greenpeace, https://www.greenpeace.org/international/act/join-the-movement-for-clean-air/. Accessed 1 April 2022.

“Littering Facts: How Littering Really Affects the Environment | TDS.” Texas Disposal Systems, 4 May 2020, https://www.texasdisposal.com/blog/the-real-cost-of-littering. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Mackenzie, Jillian, and Jeff Turrentine. “Air Pollution Facts, Causes and the Effects of Pollutants in the Air.” NRDC, 22 June 2021, https://www.nrdc.org/stories/air-pollution-everything-you-need-know. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Mayntz, Melissa. “How Litter Hurts Birds and How You Can Help.” The Spruce, 12 August 2021, https://www.thespruce.com/how-litter-hurts-birds-386484. Accessed 1 April 2022.

McFall, Morgan. “How Fast Fashion Hurts the Planet Through Pollution and Waste.” Business Insider, 21 October 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10. Accessed 1 April 2022.

“Plant litter effects on soil nutrient availability and vegetation dynamics: changes that occur when annual grasses invade shrub-steppe communities | Treesearch.” USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/47583. Accessed 1 April 2022.

“Pollution.” National Wildlife Federation, https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Threats-to-Wildlife/Pollution. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Ravenhall, Lucy. “How litter harms our wildlife – The Waste Management & Recycling Blog.” Forge Recycling, 3 July 2019, https://www.forgerecycling.co.uk/blog/how-litter-harms-our-wildlife/. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Ravenhall, Lucy. “How litter harms our wildlife – The Waste Management & Recycling Blog.” Forge Recycling, 3 July 2019, https://www.forgerecycling.co.uk/blog/how-litter-harms-our-wildlife/. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Somma, Marina. “How Does Pollution Affect Dolphins?” Sciencing, 30 September 2021, https://sciencing.com/pollution-affect-dolphins-10041727.html. Accessed 1 April 2022.

“Why Birds Matter – Travis Audubon.” Travis Audubon, https://travisaudubon.org/project/why-birds-matter. Accessed 1 April 2022.“Why you should care: air quality and health.” Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, https://www.pca.state.mn.us/air/why-you-should-care-air-quality-and-health. Accessed 1 April 2022.