Littering can have a number of negative effects on the environment and human health.
The main problems associated with littering are common to a lot of cities around the world. With direct impacts on people’s health and quality of life, millions of people suffer from the consequences of irresponsible behaviours and lack of proper waste management. Some of the most recurring challenges caused by littering are:
Litter can harm wildlife, damage habitats, and pollute soil and water. Plastic litter in particular can take hundreds of years to degrade, and can be ingested by marine and land animals, causing injury and death. Researchers estimate that littering is directly responsible for over a million deaths among marine animals every year (WWF, 2021).
Littering can be costly to clean up, and can also negatively impact local businesses and tourism. The United States spends an average of more than $11.5 billion annually dealing with littering while the European Union spends up to 13 billion every year (US Congress, Europa, 2019). In many low-income countries, the private and public sectors cannot assume the costs of cleaning and picking up littered trash. It therefore accumulates in nature or urban environments indefinitely.
Littering has as well a direct impact on s
ome key economical sectors such as tourism, agriculture and urban development.
Moreover, litter and debris in the environment can clog storm drains, sewers and other drainage systems. When this occurs, the water has nowhere to evacuate resulting in flooded streets, homes, and businesses. The excess water can also pick up the litter on the ground and carry it to other areas, causing more pollution and hazards.
Litter can attract pests, such as rats and mosquitoes, which can carry diseases. Polluted urban and natural environments can also lead to injury or illness by introducing pathogens directly to individuals. This can happen in cases where the litter are sharp objects, such as rusty tins, contaminated glass, needles or blades. These sharp objects can cause cuts on the skin of animals or humans, and even lead to infections such as tetanus if not handled properly.
Additionally, during floods, litter can become dangerous projectiles and can cause damage to property and even injury to people. Litter in the water can also harm or kill aquatic animals, and can make the water unsafe for human consumption.
Litter can make an area look unkempt and can decrease property values. The smells and the presence of rodents feeding in the trash can also have an impact on the overall reputation of a neighborhood or town. Paris is a good example of a megapolis facing great problems dealing with the consequences of inefficient waste management.
Littering is illegal in most countries and can result in fines or even jail time. In Jordan for example, according to law the fine for littering stands between 50 and 1000 JOD. However, studies show that the legislation is widely unknown among the population and rarely enforced by the authorities.
Overall, littering can have multiple negative impacts on many aspects of society. It is not only a personal responsibility to dispose of waste properly but also a collective duty to safeguard urban and natural environments.