Litter is always caused by people.
It is waste in the wrong place which ruins the appearance of our cities, towns, villages and countryside. Litter has many forms and many sources, from a sweet wrapper or cigarette butt thrown on the street to a dumped bag of rubbish, a fly-tipped load of demolition rubble or a dog fouled public park. Local Authorities spend tens of millions of euros every year on cleaning the streets in Ireland and trying to prevent people from dumping their waste illegally – an enormous amount of money that could be spent on better things! Estimates indicate that collecting litter is nearly ten times more expensive per tonne than collecting domestic waste.
Litter such as broken bottles and cans left lying around public areas can easily result in an injury, while food litter can attract rats and flies, which spread disease. Litter is also lethal to wildlife, from discarded fishing lines that can maim and kill water birds, to plastic bags mistaken for food and ingested by animals such as cows, sheep, horses and some marine animals. Recent research by TCD (Gray & Gray 2004) on the littering of minor roads in Ireland indicated that the number of litter items deposited on these roads was an average over 3,500 items per kilometre of road per year. One site surveyed had levels of littering of over 10,000 items per kilometre per year!! Almost 60% of identifiable litter items were beverage containers and packaging. Furthermore, this study indicated that the roadside litter eventaully ends up in watercourses and on agricultural land were it causes animal injury and death, crop contamination and machinery damage.
Litter & Climate Change
It is common knowledge that there is accelerated warming of the earth due to rising concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which are caused by human activities. Most products we buy and use cause greenhouse gas emissions in some way, e.g. during production and distribution. They also contribute towards exhausting our natural resources. Packaging takes energy to produce, therefore by cutting down on packaging production, and also through recycling, we can reduce the amount of energy used and limit the release of further greenhouse gases in to the atmosphere.
Your contribution during the National Spring Clean, however big or small, will have real and measurable benefits for our environment. For example:
- For every aluminium can collected and recycled enough energy is saved to run your television for three hours!
- For 1kg of recycled plastics collected, 1.5kg of carbon dioxide is prevented from being released to the atmosphere (the same amount of carbon dioxide released by toasting 30 slices of bread!)
- By recycling 1kg of paper instead of landfilling, enough energy is saved to run an energy-saving bulb non-stop for two days! For 1kg of recycled glass, the saving is 300g of carbon dioxide
Further benefits to our environment from reduced waste and litter include a reduction of pollutants in our natural ecosystems, and improved visual amenity in our landscapes.
In future you might consider:
- Choosing products with minimal or no packaging
- Re-using plastic bags
- Buying re-fills where possible.