Litter is a costly problem, over and above its monetary effect. To be sure, the financial burden of litter is high, but that’s just one way to measure its negative impact. Litter is also deadly for wildlife and degrades our ecosystems in ways that are difficult to quantify and measure.
Aquatic animals and birds, particularly sea birds and birds that live near water, are particularly vulnerable. About 1 million sea birds and 100,000 aquatic animals die each year because of plastic, according to Ocean Crusaders.
It’s easy to think of this as a far-away problem, only affecting ocean animals, but we’ve seen it right here in our own preserves, too. In 2018, a pelican was found tangled in fishing line at McKinley Woods – Kerry Sheridan Grove. It was rescued but later had to be euthanized because its injuries were too severe.
Just a month later, an egret was found dead, tangled in fishing line, hanging from a tree at Lake Renwick. In May 2019, a robin became entangled in fishing line at Isle a la Cache Preserve and died. In March of 2020, a great blue heron was found hanging from a tree at Rock Run Rookery. It was also tangled up in fishing line.
RELATED: IMPROPERLY DISPOSED OF FISHING LINE IS A DEATH TRAP FOR WILDLIFE
Fishing line that isn’t disposed of properly is just one pitfall for wildlife. Plastic bags can blow into waterways and sink to the bottom, posing a hazard for aquatic animals, which can get stuck or entangled in the bags. Plastic six-pack rings are another risk for animals both on land and in water. Even cans can pose risks to animals if they get their heads or appendages stuck inside them.
And don’t forget that plastic and other littered items that make their way into our local waterways can eventually have negative effects thousands of miles from here. That’s because waterways are connected. A plastic water bottle that is dropped or blown into a river here can eventually make its way to the Mississippi River and travel south into the Gulf of Mexico. There, it becomes one of more than 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris floating in our oceans, according to National Geographic. Sometimes, this plastic trash remains identifiable — a beverage bottle or food container — but more often it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic that are ever present in our waterways.
An expensive problem