Litter is stuff that ends up on the ground or in lakes and seas, and that shouldn’t be there. It could be glass bottles, plastic bags, tins, cigarette butts or sweet wrappers. Both animals and people can injure themselves because of litter.
Some litter also contains hazardous substances that should not leak out into the environment.
25 million elephants- worth of plastic in the oceans There could already be 150 million tonnes of plastic litter in the world’s oceans. That’s the same weight as 25 million large elephants. If that many elephants stood in a line with their trunks outstretched, the line would be 200,000 km long. It would go round the world five times.
More plastic than fish in the water. Photo: Bo Eide
More plastic than fish ... Lots of plastic litter ends up in the world’s oceans. It can travel long distances on the wind or in rivers and rainwater. If we don’t do something about this, by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans!
Whale swallowed 30 plastic bags • 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year. • The plastic injures over 600 species of animals that live in and by the sea. • A stranded whale in Norway had 30 plastic bags in its stomach.
Plastic doesn’t go away Plastic that ends up on the ground or in the sea breaks down into tiny pieces very, very slowly. This can take hundreds or thousands of years. Even really tiny bits of plastic (microplastics) can cause harm. Microplastics can be eaten by small organisms like animal plankton and clams. When these organisms are then eaten by larger animals, the plastic carries on up the food chain. In the end, the plastic may end up in the fish you eat for dinner. Researchers are trying to find out more about how animals and people are affected by eating microplastics.
4,500 billion cigarette butts reach the moon and back 117 times In the whole world, around 4,500 billion cigarette butts are chucked on the ground every year! If you line up all these cigarette butts, the line would be 90,000,000 kilometres long. That’s as far as travelling to and from the moon 117 times. It takes about three years for a cigarette butt to break down to such tiny pieces that it can’t be seen. But even tiny pieces can do damage.
99 percent of all seabirds will have eaten plastic by the year 2050 if this development continues. Photo: Ingrid Taylar
Litter costs money It’s hard to work out how much littering costs all around the world. Many countries invest lots of resources in cleaning and picking up litter. Littering can for example mean that tourists stop visiting an area, which leads to less money coming into a country. The more litter that ends up on the ground or in our oceans, the greater the consequences and costs. It’s cheaper to deal with the litter properly right from the start. A lot of what ends up as litter can also be used again.
Litter can harm animals Many animals are injured by litter. They can hurt themselves on it, get stuck or even end up eating it. Animals that swallow bits of plastic can starve to death or gradually get weaker as their stomachs fill with plastic instead of food. Both large and small animals can be injured by litter, for example whales, turtles, fish, birds, clams and cows.
Best and worst thing about waste The best thing would be if there wasn’t any waste in the first place. Maybe we could use less packaging? • Any waste that is still produced should ideally be reused or recycled. Then our stuff and materials could be useful again and it would help save the Earth’s resources. • If that’s not possible, the waste should be incinerated or taken to a rubbish tip. But we need to do it properly, so we don’t contaminate the air, ground or water. • The worst thing is if waste ends up as litter on the ground or in rivers, lakes and seas.