Litter can be a combination of many types of trash, including plastic, discarded tires, scrap metal and other miscellaneous objects, which are regularly discarded in river beds, vegetation or on the side of the road.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the seven major sources that contribute to land litter include: home trash cans, business trash collection areas, loading docks, construction and demolition sites, uncovered trucks, motorists and pedestrians. Studies show that littering is a result of individual behavior, and can be attributed to people simply not caring about how their trash is discarded, or it may be due their lack of education when it comes to the topic of the hazards and repercussions of littering.
When we constantly see plastic bottles, broken glass and even tires, it’s not just an eyesore to the public, but it can additionally have an adverse effect on the local tourism industry (no one wants to take pictures with plastic bottles).
Once litter is on the ground, it attracts more litter, but a clean area by contrast, can discourage littering and improve the open space’s appearance and quality of human life and wild life. Beyond the aesthetic issues with littering, there are serious health hazards linked to littering and human exposure. Litter can carry germs, bacteria and viruses due to a multitude of environmental factors (heat, water, ect.). Some of the most prevalent diseases that are found in areas which have an extensive litter problem include:
Bacterial: Viral: Parasitic:
Salmonellosis Trachoma Hookworm
Shigellosis hepatitis A Threadworm
Staphylococcal Gastroenteritis Roundworm
food poisoning Murray Valley encephalitis
Skin infections Ross River virus disease
Tetanus Zika virus
Germs and parasites can be transmitted to humans through direct exposure with contaminated items, or by unconsciously injuring or infecting themselves by stepping on a rusty or broken object. Littering also provides an environment that is perfect for breeding vector-borne diseases, which can then be transmitted to humans by animals, such as mosquitoes, rats, mice and flies. People are most at risk for contracting these diseases based on the activities they partake in such as: swimming, hiking, walking around barefoot or ingesting unfiltered creek water. Many times large piles of litter are found upstream (known as dumping sites), which brings up the legitimate concern of hazardous particles flowing downstream to popular sections of creeks, which are used for recreational activities.
Through research and evidence-based practices, it is abundantly clear that all humans, animals and plants need contaminate-free water to survive and thrive. The presence of litter in vegetative areas, or in various water ways can seriously compromise the water quality for wildlife and people alike, as well as contribute to the degradation of an ecosystem. Litter that accumulates can eventually lead to a chemical imbalance in the soil, which can cause ground water pollution, and Illegal dumping contributes to the decomposition of organic and inorganic matter, which can then lead to an increase in algal blooms in water, which puts aquatic and wildlife at risk for poisoning and oxygen deprivation.