• Outdoors Outdoors

Wildlife hospital manager issues warning after observing concerning trend: 'It does cause the death of many thousands'

"Some of them we can save, but they're notoriously difficult to catch."

"Some of them we can save, but they're notoriously difficult to catch."

Photo Credit: iStock

Roadside garbage isn't just unsightly — it's also deadly. 

"It does cause the death of many thousands of animals every year," Sue Schwar, hospital manager at South Essex Wildlife Hospital in the United Kingdom, said.

What's happening?

Litter threatens wildlife in several ways, from choking them, starving them from the inside, suffocating them, causing infections, and more. The threats are heightened once vegetation covers litter, disguising the threat until it's too late.

Schwar mentioned that foxes are often found with "their heads trapped in plastic jars" and that glass bottles are "notorious" for trapping small animals like voles. 

"We've seen lots of animals die when they've got a constriction injury around their neck, particularly younger animals that get caught and it gets tighter and tighter as they grow," she told the BBC. "Some of them we can save, but they're notoriously difficult to catch, and sadly we can't [save them all]."

National Highways in the UK reported that the RSPCA received over 10,000 reports of animals found injured, trapped, or dead as a result of litter in the last three years.

"I think it's getting worse," said Schwar grimly. "There are community groups that go out and pick up litter, which is fantastic, but we're all responsible for not throwing it away in the first place."

Why is it concerning?

The hazards posed by litter aren't limited to animals. Pollution causes the spread of diseases, from respiratory illnesses to malaria and more. And, under the right conditions, litter can even cause massive fires

Unfortunately, waste levels are staggering around the world. Much of this junk ends up in oceans and waterways, endangering marine life everywhere from the Caribbean to New Zealand. Nets and fishing lines are notorious for entangling birds, fish, sharks, whales, dolphins, seals, and sea turtles

Litter is prevalent on land, too. Plastic has been found everywhere, from the stomachs of bears in Colorado to rhino dung inside national parks in Africa.

When plastic erodes, toxic microplastics threaten "digestive, respiratory, endocrine, reproductive, and immune systems" in both humans and animals, according to the National Library of Medicine.

What's being done? 

In the UK, National Highways has launched their "Lend a Paw" campaign to encourage motorists to use designated trash receptacles — and they've begun using cameras to enforce these rules.

Regardless of where you're located, it's important to avoid single-use plastic wherever possible to prevent waste generation. 

Instead, you can learn more about recycling options near you and support circular brands with business models optimized to avoid waste creation.

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