Every week we bring you a simple idea for reducing your carbon footprint and protecting the planet. This week: the benefits of litter picking for you and your neighbourhood.
Litter: it’s unsightly, it costs taxpayer money to get rid of, and it’s bad for the planet. But if you’re already being mindful to put your own rubbish in a bin (and keep it up!) then it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the trash blighting out streets, parks and beaches. After all, you’ve done your bit, right?
But picking up the odd bit of litter that you encounter in your day-to-day life can actually have a pretty significant impact, not just on your local area, but on wildlife, too. Here’s how:
1. Litter is harmful to wildlife
Litter frequently attracts wild animals – such as urban foxes looking for a tasty snack or water fowl looking for nest-building materials – that can choke or become entangled in rubbish. This is a particularly serious issue for marine life: plastic waste kills up to a million seabirds every year, while half of all sea turtles worldwide have ingested plastic, with many later starving as they believe their full stomachs mean they’ve eaten enough.
2. Litter is dangerous for people
There are a number of obvious health risks that come with litter: broken glass can cause cuts, for example. But there are wider issues, too. Litter can attract disease-carrying wildlife, and if it gets washed into storm drains or waterways it can pollute the water we rely on for drinking and recreation.
3. Litter leads to crime
According to Keep Britain Tidy, litter has been linked to increased levels of poverty, crime and social disorder. A study found that areas in the UK blighted by litter, graffiti and fly-positing had a likelihood for crime of between one in 5,000 and one in 10,000. Areas with the lowest instances of litter, graffiti and fly-positing, meanwhile, had a crime risk of between one in 17,000 and one in 21,000.
4. Littering depletes the world of valuable materials
Every time a piece of rubbish winds up in a hedge, is discarded on the roadside or chucked into a waterway, the value inherent in that piece of material is wasted – if it’s an aluminium can, it can’t be recycled into a new one, for example. That means more resources must be used to create the same items from new materials. But, if the litter ends up in a bin or recycling box, it stands a much better chance of being reused properly.
5. Litter breeds litter
Another study by Keep Britain Tidy found that the presence of litter, especially bright rubbish, generally leads to more litter, as people feel it’s more socially acceptable in the area they’re in. Conversely, if an area is free from litter, it’s less likely people will litter there. So by picking up one piece of trash, you may well be discouraging someone else from littering later on.
A lot of communities hold regular litter picking events – although of course you don’t need to attend one of these to make a difference: there’s nothing stopping you from heading out with a bag yourself! But you needn’t make a big occasion of it. Simply picking up the odd piece of litter (only if it’s safe to do so) can make a difference, especially if everyone does it. And it sets a good example to those around you. People might think twice about dropping rubbish if they see someone else going out of their way to create a nicer environment for their local community, and the planet itself.
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