OSEA Safety News

How Littering Contributes to the Destruction of Our Planet

Monday, August 20th, 2018

Although littering laws and regulations are in place to reduce litter and the harmful effects it has on our planet, a simple drive down any street will show you that more needs to be done. You see trash blowing around on the sides of the road, you see someone tossing a cigarette butt out the window, fast food wrappers caught up in the trees. These items are typically not biodegradable and will take years to decompose, if they decompose at all.

Litter can be defined as any kind of trash thrown in small amounts, especially in places where it doesn’t belong. Most common litter items include – fast food packaging, cigarette butts, used drink bottles, chewing gum wrappers, broken electrical equipment parts, toys, and broken glass. Practices that are considered littering: leaving items overflowing out of waste bins; deliberate throwing of items from vehicles; and abandoning items by the roadside.

What is this doing to our planet? Simply put, destroying it. When waste isn’t properly disposed of in the correct bins there’s less chance of recycling. The litter ends up in our water systems, it ends up in the digestive tracts of our wildlife, it ends up smothering plants, and reduces air quality due to smell and toxic chemical vapors coming from it. It can also facilitate the spread of disease by providing places for pests such as mosquitos, flies, rats and mice to live and breed.

So, you throw a “harmless” cigarette butt out the window of your car, it’s just one butt, it can’t do much harm, right? Wrong…. That cigarette butt will likely end up in a storm drain and eventually end up in our waterways. Studies have shown that just one cigarette butt in approximately 2 gallons of water can be lethal to water fleas, fish and healthy marine bacteria living in most waterways. By killing off these crustaceans, fish and organisms you are now disrupting an entire ecosystem. Did you know it takes 18 months to 10 years for a single cigarette filter to decompose? Meanwhile the residual chemicals from that butt are leaching into the soil or water in which it lands.

So what about that fast food wrapper? Most fast food wrappers and containers contain a grease-repelling chemical coating that contains compounds that may affect child development – including changes in growth, learning and behavior, and a decrease in fertility - If they have these effects on humans, you can imagine the effects they could have on smaller animals! Once on the ground, these compounds can leech out into the soil as well as into waterways. Leeching into the water ways and ground can allow these harmful compounds into our food supply – in fruits and vegetables, and into our drinking water.

Some small steps you can take to reduce litter and reduce the impact litter has on our planet are as follows:

  • If you are a smoker, carry a pocket ashtray or portable ashtray with you in your vehicle
  • Ensure your trash cans have lids that can be securely fastened
  • Secure all trash bags to ensure trash doesn’t blow out when placing at the curb for pickup
  • Tie paper into bundles before placing into curbside recycling bins
  • Report overflowing trash receptacles in public places to the owner
  • Just don’t litter! Carry and use litter bags in your vehicle and DO NOT throw litter from your windows

Additional ways to reduce your carbon footprint:

  • Reduce your use of disposable items
  • Shop secondhand
  • Join groups dedicated to reducing litter and cleaning up specific areas


Interested in learning more about what OSEA does in our Environmental Safety field? Check out this page on our website: https://www.osea.com/services/environmental/

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