The wildlife roaming our planet doesn’t generate trash, but all too often they come in contact with it. When debris is not disposed of properly it becomes harmful litter that pollutes our environment and puts wildlife at risk. The problem is so significant that the Humane Society estimates their organization alone helps more than 14,000 animals a year that come in contact with debris.
All trash has the potential to do harm, but each one does so in different ways.
General Municipal Waste
The things we throw out in the trash on a daily basis pose countless problems for wildlife. Nets and fishing wires that are left behind in oceans are a perfect example of how debris can turn deadly for wildlife. Even larger animals like whales can become entangled. Another indirect way that litter negatively impacts wildlife is by putting animals in harm’s way. Curious creatures will venture closer to dangerous roads, developed areas, and boat paths to check out debris.
Cigarette butts are one of the top litter pollutants. So it comes as no surprise that every year animals are poisoned by the butts’ nicotine, which is toxic when consumed. What’s worst is cigarette butts don’t break down and can build up in an animal’s system.
When litter is significant it can impact the ecosystem and cause alterations that indirectly affect the wildlife. In some cases animals will have to find new habitats to live in or alter their migration routes.
Plastic is the most prominent type of garbage polluting our oceans, and it is one of the most harmful pollutants on land as well. Plastics wreak havoc in a number of ways from entangling animals to blocking sunlight that grows the plankton that many marine creatures feeds on. Plastic six-pack rings are especially dangerous since it’s easy for many animals to get them looped around their neck and choke to death.
Another danger comes from animals eating plastic. When consumed plastic often causes deadly blockages in the intestines. One of the most famous cases was in 1993 when a pygmy sperm whale was rescued off the New Jersey coast. Rescuers discovered the whale had three square feet of plastic in her stomach. Balloons, plastic bags, and more can travel much further than their place of origin, putting animals across an expansive area at risk.
Sharp metal shards can cause significant injuries to a variety of wildlife. Sea birds have been blinded by hooks, and raccoons have sliced their skin open on metal containers. Curious creatures can even get their limbs stuck in the opening of cans. These cuts can turn to infections or weaken the animal to the point that they can’t eat enough to survive.
We all know that glass can quickly become unsafe once it’s broken. The same danger that glass poses for people rings true for all wildlife. Animals out in the wild often cut open their paws by unknowingly walking over broken glass. Animals can also be impaled by glass, which often leads to death. Another common problem is wildlife getting their heads or paws stuck in glass jars.
Paper isn’t as dangerous as other types of trash, however it still can become a threat. Wrappers quickly become chocking hazards for hungry animals. Chinese lanterns are another paper product that can harm wildlife both from ingestion of the paper and impalement or being trapped by the wires.
Chemicals, toxins, poisons – they are all components of hazardous waste. These materials pose a serious threat to both animals and humans. Lead products are life threatening when consumed by animals. Old coolant that’s been removed from vehicles has the potential to kill unsuspecting pets around the neighborhood. Hazardous materials can leach into the ground and water causing untold dangers for every living thing.
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