What Are the Effects of Littering?

Negative effects of littering on the environment include harming wildlife and polluting waterways. Littering is hazardous to some living things. It is also illegal and ugly.

Wild animals are among the most significant victims of littering. Animals get tangled in litter, such as plastic and metal, sometimes for long periods of time. Entangled animals may become deformed or even killed due to the trash restricting their growth, or because the trash robs them of the ability to perform necessary survival functions.

Many animals mistake litter for food and become sick or die when they try to ingest it. Sea turtles often mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish, a large part of their diet, and die from eating the plastic.

Litter blocks the flow of water in lakes and rivers, thus polluting the home of aquatic life. Drinking water is sometimes contaminated by litter making it unsafe to consume. Littering is also a fire hazard, contributing to wildfires that destroy acres of forest and grassland and killing animals and humans alike.

Because some forms of litter take so long to decompose, its effects can be longstanding. Cigarette butts, for example, take 12 years to decompose, during which time they leach cadmium, lead, arsenic and other toxic elements into the soil and ground water.