“I see litter as part of a long continuum of anti-social behaviour.”
Littering: Causes, Effects & Solutions
Litter can be defined as waste products that have been disposed of in an improper way at undesirable locations.
Litter can be composed of several different materials like plastic, metals or paper. It can also include large and hazardous waste like batteries, electronics or tires.
Littering can be regarded as a serious issue to our environmental system since it has severe adverse effects. In the following, the causes, effects and also solutions regarding littering are examined.
Causes for Littering
- People are lazy
- People do not care
- Attitude towards littering
- Stubborn behavior
- Pack behavior
- Low fines
- Lack of education
- Not enough trash cans
Construction activities are one cause for littering. Since at big construction projects, many workers are at one place and often live in housing nearby, they usually produce large amounts of waste. This may be waste from the lunch break or also from packaging material. This waste is often dumped nearby and may lead to littering.
People are lazy
Many times, the simple reason for littering is just laziness. Many people are just not willing to keep their trash and dispose of it in the next trash bin. They rather throw away their stuff right where they stand.
A good example of this behavior is the disposal of cigarettes. People just dump them on the ground when the cigarette is finished, seemingly too lazy to dispose of their cigarettes in a proper way.
People do not care
Another reason for littering that people often seem that they just do not care about how they dispose of their waste. Some people seem not to care about the environment at all, just throwing away all kinds of items even in forests or in landscape conservation areas.
Attitude towards littering
The attitude towards littering of our society plays an important role in the process of littering. Studies found that people are more likely to litter in areas where there is already a high level of littering.
This implies that people are also forced by social norms. In areas with high levels of littering, people think it is more accepted to litter and therefore are more eager to do so. Thus, the value system of our society also determines the level of littering.
Another cause for littering is simply the immaturity of some people. If they saw that their actions adversely affect the environment, people would likely be more careful and avoid littering, assuming they are responsible enough. Since many young people are quite immature, however, they do not care too much about our planet at this kind of age and are often too selfish for responsible trash disposal behavior.
However, not only young immature people may contribute to the littering issue, also old people who are unwilling to change their behavior may do so. If a person becomes older, he or she is less likely to change their daily life behavior.
Thus, if people do not learn to avoid littering until they reach a certain age, they are less likely to learn it when they become old.
We are all affected (at least unconsciously) by the people who we spend time with. Thus, if we spent time with people that live their lives in an environmentally-friendly way, we are more likely to also pay more attention.
Therefore, people who hang out with people who do not care about the environment and do litter quite frequently are also more likely to start littering.
In many countries, the fines for littering are quite low. There may even be no fines at all. For example, it is quite common in Europe that many people just throw their cigarettes on the ground when they are finished.
Nobody seems to care about this behavior and they are almost never fined at all. Thus, since people do not have to expect to get fined, they are more willing to stick to their littering behavior.
Lack of education
Education is always crucial when it comes to developing responsible behavior towards our planet. Many people simply do not know how their actions affect the environment.
Thus, they do not care about the littering issue and just throw their garbage on the ground since they have always done it like that. Therefore, a lack of education is another cause of the littering issue.
Not enough trash cans
In some areas, there may also be not enough trash bins around. People are often not willing to search for trash cans for a long time. If they do not find them right away, people are more likely to throw their trash on the ground and thus to contribute to the littering problem.
Effects of Littering
- Spread of diseases
- Social costs
- Social tensions
- Increased probability for fires
- Breeding ground for insects
- Soil pollution
- Water pollution
- Air pollution
- Decrease in tourism
- Visual pollution
- Effects on quality of life
- Effects on animals
- Effects on plants
- Effects on aquatic life
- Effects on birds
- Economic effects
Spread of diseases
Littering can cause the spread of diseases, depending on how the littering mass is composed of. The littering of organic waste always poses a threat to human health since it attracts animals like rats which are known to be able to transmit serious diseases when they get in touch with humans.
Moreover, litter can be the breeding ground for many harmful bacteria which can lead to the spread of diseases like Cholera or other serious health conditions.
There may also be injuries caused by littering. People are especially at risk when the litter is composed of metals, blades or needles. For example, if children are playing outside, they are likely to pick up the things on the ground since they want to play with them.
If the litter contains harmful bacteria, children can be affected since the litter containing class could cut through their skin and transmit serious diseases.
Littering also leads to significant costs in our society. On the one hand, the litter has to be cleaned up by employees which adds up to quite a lot of money which has to be spent on this cleaning process.
On the other hand, there are costs related to the pollution of our environment. Litter usually has adverse effects on our environmental system since it causes all kinds of pollution.
In the long run, we will have to pay the piper for our littering behavior. Thus, the littering issue can lead to high social costs.
Littering may also cause tensions in our daily life. For example, I see people arguing about littering on a daily basis. When someone throws garbage on the ground, there are other people who want to convince this person to avoid this behavior.
However, in many cases, the person who littered does not see a reason to change his behavior and will openly communicate his attitude. This may lead to conflicts between both parties which could result in fights if things get out of control.
Increased probability for fires
Littering may also contribute to fires. For example, if people just throw away their cigarettes wherever they stand, they are at risk to start wildfires. This is especially true if people throw away their cigarettes in areas that are at high risk for wildfires like dry woods.
People simply often underestimate the dangers of their behavior. They do not believe that a cigarette could be enough to start a fire. Thus, littering can cause an increase in probability of wildfires.
Breeding ground for insects
Litter can also serve as a breeding ground for insects or pests. Especially organic litter can be quite harmful since these insects and other pests are eager to breed on organic substances. Thus, littering can lead to an increase in undesirable insects since it contributes to increase in their population.
Soil pollution is another important adverse effect of littering. Litter can be composed of several materials like glass, metal, organic stuff and so on. It can also contain hazardous materials. This is often due when it comes to batteries. Batteries contain many harmful substances.
If these batteries are disposed of improperly and result in litter, they may pollute the soil in a severe way. The soil is likely to store harmful substances. This in turn may also contaminate our groundwater since through heavy rainfalls, the harmful substances are washed through the soil.
Water pollution from littering can come in several ways. Our rivers and lakes can be polluted through littering when people just dispose of their garbage directly in the water. Moreover, part of this garbage is likely to eventually end up in our oceans.
In addition, water pollution also includes the pollution of our groundwater. When people throw away their garbage, harmful elements are washed into our groundwater due to natural rainfalls. Thus, littering can contribute to water pollution in a significant manner.
In some cases, in order to get rid of the litter, it is just burned. However, in the combustion process, there are many harmful substances that can enter our air and thus lead to air pollution.
This problem is especially severe when it comes to the burning of plastic since this leads to the emission of many toxic gases and particulate matter which in turn can harm the human respiratory system.
Decrease in tourism
Many poor countries rely on tourism since that is their biggest source of income. They are quite aware that their nature is their biggest asset in order to be able to survive.
Thus, many countries have strict laws against littering in order to protect their nature. They know that littering will pollute their environments and tourists will stop visiting these countries if they are polluted too much.
Tourists are usually looking for places which are clean since they want to experience the best sides of the country and also want to relax. Thus, polluted beaches may not be their first choice for their vacation. Therefore, littering can lead to a serious decrease in tourism.
Visual pollution is another effect of littering. It just doesn’t look nice if beaches are polluted with rubbish or when forests are full of tires or other garbage.
People will feel uncomfortable which may lead to more stress for them. Thus, littering may lead to visual pollution and thus may also lead to related adverse effects.
Effects on quality of life
Littering also affects the quality of life of people living in the affected areas. People like to have a clean environment where they can relax after work. If there is trash on every corner and every square foot is polluted by cigarettes, the life quality of many people drops significantly.
Effects on animals
Apart from the many adverse effects on humans from littering, there are also several serious adverse effects on animals. Animals will try to eat some of the litter. However, they may not be aware that a big fraction of the litter may impose significant health issues on them.
For example, if animals try to eat cigarettes, chances are that they simply will die. Animals may also consume organic food contaminated with certain bacteria. This can lead to a spread of epidemics in the animal world. Thus, littering can have severe effects also on animals.
Effects on plants
Plants can also be affected by littering. Through the pollution of the soil through littering, plants are also contaminated since they get their nutrients from the soil.
If the soil is covered by cigarettes, the harmful substances from the cigarettes will be washed in the soil and therefore also end up in plants.
This could in turn eventually even lead to contamination of humans with these harmful substances in a later stage through the food cycle.
Effects on aquatic life
Aquatic life can also be adversely affected by littering. Our lakes, rivers and especially oceans suffer from a vast plastic pollution problem. Much of this problem is caused by littering since people just dispose of their trash into rivers and lakes which finally ends up in our oceans.
Many water animals and plants may die off since plastic contains harmful elements that contaminate the water. Moreover, some fishes try to eat plastic particles and also die from this since they are not able to digest plastic.
Effects on birds
Birds are also affected by littering and the implied consequences. When the trash from littering finally ends up in oceans, many birds can die since they will try to eat this trash.
Moreover, they eat fish that may also be contaminated with plastic and in turn suffer from adverse consequences.
Apart from the adverse environmental effects, there are also significant economic effects from littering. As we have seen, littering can lead to serious environmental problems.
These problems also transfer into economic problems since we have to spend quite a lot of money to clean up polluted areas.
Many people have to be employed in order to be able to get rid of the adverse consequences of littering.
Thus, littering also leads to the spending of a lot of money which could be used for other purposes it there was no littering issue.
Solutions to the Littering Problem
- Government regulations
- Higher fines
- More controlling instances
- Additional trash cans
- Pick up litter
- Community programs
- Use trash bins
- Physical signs
- Cleanup events
- Convince others
One solution to the littering problem is to impose strict government regulations. Governments and municipalities should make clear that littering is not welcome and that it has severe environmental downsides.
This should be communicated from politicians to people on a regular basis so that people get aware of this problem.
Higher fines for littering are an effective measure to mitigate littering and its adverse effects. People are usually quite sensitive when it comes to their finances.
Right now, littering is not fined at all or just with a few bucks in many countries. If we change that and the fine for littering will go up in a dramatic fashion, people will be more eager to avoid littering.
More controlling instances
Currently, littering is not controlled and fined in an appropriate manner since there are simply not enough controlling instances or people who can control littering.
Thus, people know that they can get away with littering on a daily basis since nobody stands ready to fine them. Thus, in order to get people to stop littering, we have to increase the number of people for controlling and fining littering.
Additional trash cans
In order to mitigate the littering problem, it can also make sense to provide additional trash bins in areas that currently lack a good supply.
If people do not have to walk a long distance to find the next trash bin, they are more likely to use trash bins instead of disposing of their trash on the ground.
Pick up litter
Another measure in order to mitigate the littering problem is to pick up litter. You can contribute to a reduction of waste from litter if you are willing to pick up trash from others. In this way, the trash from littering can be reduced.
However, not many people will be willing or have time to pick of litter caused by other people. Thus, picking up litter may be a supplementary measure, but is not likely to make a significant impact on the overall problem.
There may be opportunities to set up community programs in order to show people the negative effects of littering and to raise awareness on how to avoid litter. Therefore, people may be more eager to change their behavior and to avoid littering.
Use trash bins
A simple way to mitigate the littering problem is simply to use the trash cans instead of throwing your garbage on the ground. Thus, through this simple but yet quite effective measure, the adverse effects of littering can be reduced significantly.
In order to reduce the littering problem, local authorities may also put up signs which show people that littering is not welcome. In this way, people may become more sensitive to the littering problem and may stop littering.
Another contribution to mitigating the littering problem are cleanup events. Many people can gather and clean up parks or forests to get rid of the trash. Through this group effort, people are likely to be more eager to gather trash and also to avoid littering in their own daily life.
Education is a crucial step to be able to mitigate the littering issue. We have to show people how their actions in their daily life affect the environment. We also have to show them that it is quite easy to avoid littering and thus to contribute to protect the environment.
This education should already start in school since children are usually more willing to learn and adjust their behavior than adults. Moreover, children may convince their parents which may in turn pay more attention to avoiding littering.
In addition, when the children grow up, they may also be more aware of the littering problem and may be more motivated to take measures to mitigate it.
We have to also assure that our waste is disposed of properly. This means we should separate garbage in our daily life. Moreover, it has to be assured that industries have proper waste disposal processes and do not dump their trash in nearby rivers, lakes or other storage spaces in nature.
Littering is a big problem in our society. Many people are just throwing their garbage on the ground and seem not to care about the adverse consequences of their behavior on our environment.
Many people may even not be aware of how littering affects our planet. Littering has severe environmental effects, including adverse effects on humans, animals, plant and marine life. Littering can be mitigated by several measures.
Many of them are easy to implement in our daily life. We can all make a big impact on mitigating the littering issue if we pay attention to our own behavior and also by trying to convince other people.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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