plastic bag floating in tropical waters surrounded by colourful fish

How litter is impacting your local wildlife

“The future of humanity, and indeed all life on earth, depends on us” Sir David Attenborough. Yet, humans are the only species to make waste that cannot degrade or be consumed by another species. It creates a harmful cycle whereby those who depend on humanity (like animals) are in harms way. Litter harms local wildlife as well as deep-sea creatures and every creature in between. We’ve seen the effects, like on Sir David’s programme Blue Planet. The animal kingdom fascinates us all at some point in our lives, but we seldom remember that it depends on us for survival.

How much litter harms local wildlife? 

In a recent blog, we discussed the 2 million pieces of litter in the UK that are dropped every day. Not every piece reaches wildlife, fortunately, some good Samaritans pledge to pick up litter wherever they can. That’s right Greenredeem members, we see the thousands of you who completed your pledges last week! However, 2 million pieces is a lot to pick. Sadly, thousands of pieces still end up in our environment. 

The impact of litter on animals 

So, what issues do animals have with litter? It’s not a case of them ‘ignoring it’ as they don’t understand what it is. Litter harms local wildlife in several ways, but the most common is being mistaken for food. Bright coloured wrappers, the scent of old food, it can be deceiving. Ingesting litter will not always instantly harm wildlife, but over time the effects can be severe and even cause death. There have been reports of animal carcasses being discovered where stomachs are filled with plastic. 

Another way that litter harms local wildlife is when it becomes a hazard. We know, eating litter is a hazard, but we’re suggesting a different type. Did you know, the RSPCA receives over 5,000 calls a year about wild animals that are in trouble. It can be anything from getting stuck in a fisherman’s net that washed up on shore to getting stuck inside a container or even a piece of plastic getting stuck where it shouldn’t. Remember that sea turtle that sparked the revolution for the banning of plastic straws? A prime example of how litter harms animals. 

Recently, we’ve seen a huge increase in face masks harming animals. Everything from dogs and cats to fish and birds have been caught up in the tragedy of littered face masks. It’s led to multiple social campaigns about people cutting the ear loops and making sure they put them in the bin at home.  

Estimates show that that 102 million face masks are being thrown away in the UK every week, and due to the nature of their use, people are more reluctant to pick them up to dispose of them. Although understandable, it highlights the importance of ensuring we all do our bit as much as we can: 

  • If you see someone drop theirs, let them know so they can put it in the bin.  
  • Use a reusable mask.  
  • If you go on a litter pick and have a utensil to grab litter rather than your hands, make an extra effort to grab masks as others won’t. 

How alternative litter harms local wildlife

Litter isn’t always a discarded item. Sometimes it comes from a happy and positive place, like a birthday or memorial celebration. Balloons, paper lanterns, confetti, fireworks. They all begin as positive actions but more often than not, harm animals. Although paper lanterns burn up, the metal rings can wrap around animals. Balloons after a while deflate and appear to animals as food. Confetti breaks down into tiny pieces harming landscapes and appearing as food. Fireworks end up leaving harmful chemicals attached to sticks which are seen as ideal for building homes.  

If you’re planning on a celebration soon, be sure not to fall into the trap of these products. Even if they’re ‘eco’ and can ‘biodegrade’ – it’s better to be safe than sorry and stick to all-natural celebrations that you can take home. What ever happened to a simple birthday cake and singsong?

Litter, although it starts off as a problem for humanity and the Earth, ends up harming our wildlife. We may try and protect them with bug hotels, birdhouses and adding a hole in the fence for our hedgehog highway, but litter still threatens them and their homes. The next time you consider leaving a tied-up bag of litter next to a public bin ready for collection, ask yourself: is there a chance an animal will collect this before the bin men? We say, take it home.

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