You are here

Impacts of Littering

Filed Under:
December 11, 2018


Announcer: Farm & Family is a production of the Mississippi State University extension service.

Amy Myers: Today, we're talking about the impacts of littering. Hello, I'm Amy Taylor Myers, and welcome to Farm & Family. Today, we're speaking with Beth Baker, Mississippi State University extension professor and director of the reach program.

Beth, we all know that litter is bad for the environment, but what specifically are items that we define as litter?

Beth Baker: That can really be any kind of trash, so fast food bags, cigarette butts, plastic bags, old tires, cans, bottles, whether glass or plastic. And really anything that is not supposed to be in the environment, that was just discarded of improperly.

Amy Myers: Okay, and this can have a really bad effect on our environment, so how does litter move?

Beth Baker: People typically think of litter as just being in roadside ditches, and actually once it enters those ditches, it can move between environmental compartments. So when it rains, that trash in the roadside ditch can be transported through a ditch into a stream or a river, and eventually then to the ocean. So even if you think you're just throwing something out your window, it ends up in really unintended places, and can have a much bigger impact on the environment than even you originally thought.

Amy Myers: So this can definitely impact wildlife in many negative ways. What does this do to wildlife?

Beth Baker: Whether on land or in water, this litter can be really harmful to wildlife, especially since many of the items that we throw away don't readily degrade. They can remain in the environment for decades or even centuries. Broken glass can cut the feet of foxes, or coyotes, or badgers, and even domestic dogs and cats. Entanglement in nets from fishing lines or ropes and other debris poses a pretty major threat to wildlife, and fish as well, and water fowl. Land litter, like fishing lines, and ribbons, and balloons, or six-pack rings, any kind of packaging like that can also entangle turtles, sea birds, and marine mammals.

So there's really tens of thousands of whales, birds, seals, turtles that are killed each year from plastic bag litter, specifically in marine environments. You know, those plastic bags they give out at every single store you go to. When those aren't recycled or properly disposed of, creatures mistake those bags for food, and so once they're ingested, that bag isn't digested by the animal, and it stays stuck in their gut. And even once that animal dies, it's then released back into the environment because it doesn't degrade.

Amy Myers: Oh, that does sound really scary, actually, and they can also hang themselves on these six-pack drink rings and all that stuff that come on the aluminum cans.

Beth Baker: Exactly.

Amy Myers: Okay, so, Beth, if it's not harmful enough for wildlife, then there's also several things we should know about what it does to us as humans. Why should we be concerned about litter? I understand it can be very dangerous for us and our children.

Beth Baker: When trash washes up, say, on the beach, broken glass can cut your foot while you're walking. It also could devalue the worth of your home if you have a significant amount of trash in your yard. That can bring down the value of your house. You know, just as concerned citizens in general, besides our environmental concerns, we shouldn't really forget how much litter costs us as taxpayers.

Mississippi Department of Environmental Transportation website has a whole campaign that's called Don't Trash Mississippi, and that website touches on things that include that we pay actually over $3 million in costs associated with cleanup efforts, and immeasurable dollars lost in tourism and economic development, which is pretty huge, and I don't think that we always consider that the litter in somebody else's yard is actually something we're paying for.

Amy Myers: So what can we as citizens do to help solve the problem, and where can we go for more information?

Beth Baker: The biggest thing you can do is just to set a positive example for those around you, especially co-workers, friends, and our children. That's a big one, because they learn by what we do. And so just recycling or reusing a waste product as much as possible, and disposing of garbage in trash cans is just a really big one. It always helps to keep a bag for trash in your car so that you're not in a pinch, ever having to throw something out the window. You could take reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. I think I see more and more people with those, and they always have them there for sale, too.

Make sure your trash cans have a lid to keep animals out, whether they are raccoons or just the neighbor's dog. You know, you can always encourage your favorites businesses and building owners to place trash cans and recycling bins in their areas, and consider maybe coordinating an Adopt a Spot program in your community through youth group or school programs, regular trash pickup where you go as a group to clean up an area.

Amy Myers: Today, we've been speaking with Beth Baker, extension professor. I'm Amy Taylor Myers, and this has been Farm & Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm & Family is a production of the Mississippi State University extension service.

Select Your County Office