Understanding Pollution: Don´t Underestimate Litter

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When talking about the pollution that is plaguing our world today most people think about the big issues:  Air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, and radioactive contamination.  However pollution is made of many facets.  Of all the different types of pollution there is one that every person deals with every day of their lives: littering.  Seventy-five percent of Americans admit to littering within the past five years.[i]  That’s just the percentage of people who admit to it.  Littering is something that we deal with every day, and like all problems it has causes, and effects, and the statistics that have been gathered concerning littering may surprise you.

Littering 3

The definition of litter, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is quite simple.  Litter is “Things that have been thrown away and that are lying on the ground in a public place”.[ii]   As mentioned earlier three out of four Americans admit to littering over the past five years.  Now, you may be thinking “what’s an empty soda bottle here, or a burger wrapper there?”  Well, to put it into perspective over nine billion tons of litter are dumped into the ocean every year.[iii]  That’s 24,657,534.2466 tons of litter a day.  The largest elephant on record weighed only 24000 pounds, or 12 tons.[iv] You would need over 2 million of those elephants to equal the weight amount of litter that is being dumped into the oceans every day.  There’s another interesting number involved with littering.  That’s eleven and a half billion or 11,500,000,000.  That is the amount of money in dollars that is being spent every year cleaning up litter.[v] Litter is not just a destructive business, but also an expensive one.

Littering 1

Littering, like any form of pollution, can have serious effects on the environment.  To begin with, litter has a tendency to pile up, and the more litter there is the more likely that you are to see those lovely vermin known as rats.  In 2002 the BBC did a study on the increase in the rat population in Great Britain.  “Experts estimate that there are now 60 million rats in the UK.  That’s one for every person.”[vi]  Their conclusion was that the increase in litter and waste throughout England had led to the increase in the rat population. Now, aside from the fact that rats can be somewhat vicious animals they are also known to be disease carriers.[vii] Another danger of litter is that it effects land, sea, and sky with pollution.  Because litter is such a broad category and can include items from sandwich wrappers to chemical bottles it is difficult to predict the exact effects of any piece of litter on the water we drink, the air we breathe, or the soil that we farm.  However, cumulatively, litter impacts all three areas quite heavily.  Water can be polluted, soil can be poisoned, and the air can be made toxic all from the things that people carelessly throw on the ground.  For example, tires become nesting grounds for rats and mosquitoes, when burned they release noxious chemicals into the air, and if dumped into the water then they can leech chemicals that poison the water.[viii]  A simpler effect of litter is simply that it looks nasty.  No one walking down the street wishes to see empty water bottles, beer cans, or discarded tires to name just a few pieces of prevalent litter.

Littering 2

There are several reasons why people litter.  The average number of steps a person takes before dropping a piece of trash is 12.  [ix]  This reveals two things.  Number one is that people are somewhat lazy animals.  They don’t want to walk around carrying an empty soda bottle, or sandwich wrapper.  Secondly, it reveals that people will walk twelve steps holding trash.  This implies that if there were more public trashcans that people would be more likely to throw their trash out in them.  Another reason that people litter is that they see litter.  It’s the old saying “Monkey see, monkey do.”  If you see litter on the ground you don’t feel as bad about throwing just one thing out your window, or dropping it as you walk by.  There’s already litter, so what’s a little more?  This does not excuse the fact that by littering you are adding to the problem.

Litter is something that no one likes to see.  It ruins the beauty of the world around us, and is harmful to the world in which we live.  Ultimately, litter is a global issue, and like all global issues there is only one way to deal with it.  That is for every person to make the conscious decision, and put forth the conscious effort to do something about it.  It can be as simple as just walking a few more steps until you find that trashcan, or keeping a bag in your car specifically for your trash.  The world is not going to fix itself.  It is up to us to fix it.


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About the Author

Dom resizeDominick Principe is a graduate of Rowan University with dual Bachelor Degrees in Elementary Education and Writing Arts.  He is a prolific reader who devours any book put before him, and feels that life is one great long book without an end.  He fills his hours constantly exploring new information, and seeking to educate himself in the ways of the world.  He puts all of that knowledge and his passion for learning to good use teaching English as a second language to students of all ages.  When his nose isn’t buried in a book, or in class teaching, then he can generally be found typing away at his computer working on some random piece of writing that he was inspired to do.


[i] “Littering Facts and Statistics.” Green Eco Services. Green Eco Services. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. <http://www.greenecoservices.com/littering-facts-and-statistics/&gt;. [ii] “Litter.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/litter&gt;. [iii] “Littering Statistics.” Statistic Brain RSS. Statistic Brain. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. <http://www.statisticbrain.com/littering-statistics/&gt;. [iv] “Mammals | Elephant.” Elephant. San Diego Zoo. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. <http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/elephant&gt;. [v] “Littering Statistics.” Statistic Brain RSS. Statistic Brain. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. <http://www.statisticbrain.com/littering-statistics/&gt;. [vi] “Rats.” BBC News. BBC, 30 Sept. 2002. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/northwest/series1/rats.shtml&gt;. [vii] “Wild Rats and Disease.” Wild Rats and Disease. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ratbehavior.org/WildRatDisease.htm&gt;. [viii] Rogers, Chris. “What Are the Environmental Impacts of Throwing Away Tires?” Home Guides. SFGate. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://homeguides.sfgate.com/environmental-impacts-throwing-away-tires-79649.html&gt;. [ix] “Littering Statistics.” Statistic Brain RSS. Statistic Brain. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. <http://www.statisticbrain.com/littering-statistics/&gt;.

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