An Analysis of the Causes and Effects of Littering
Littering may be defined as a human behavior that results in the improper or inappropriate disposal of waste products. Litter can range from anything such as plastic bags and wrappers to appliances, electronics and biological hazardous materials. Litter can be classified as illegal dumping if the former crosses a level of quantity or volume. Regardless of the volume, however, littering can have detrimental effects. In fact, studies show that even though littering "has decreased in the past 40 years" (Schultz, Stein, 2009, p. 6), "litter is still quite common" (Littering Behavior in America, 2009, p. 2). There is really only one primary cause of littering, which is nothing more than harmful human behavior. The effects of littering on humans, animals and the environment, however, are much more varied and diverse. This paper will analyze how human behavior causes littering to continue to proliferate, how the various detrimental effects of littering are felt by environments, humans and animals; and finally show what can be done to curb littering.
The Main Cause of Littering
It may be argued that the main cause of littering in the world is nothing more than the arrogance of people who think they do not need to take care of the world in which they live. They are deprived of any sense of realistic connection to nature. They live in a consumerist culture that is pleased to give them plastics and throw-away appliances that are then carelessly and haphazardly discarded. As Nicole Cardi (2012) illustrates, "littering is a personal choice that can stem from a lack of personal responsibility for one's actions and surroundings." But a lack of responsibility is not the only thing that keeps littering from going away: people who litter often show "a sense of entitlement -- a feeling that other people should clean up after them," (Cardi, 2012) and this sense of entitlement can easily be seen in large cities like Mumbai, where litter lines the streets, fills the gutters, pollutes the streams and lakes, and spoils the land. In fact, in places like Mumbai, "littering is socially accepted…nobody minds, no one cares" (Trash and litter in India?, 2010). In other words, the primary cause of littering is the lack of concern on the parts of peoples, societies and cultures which fail to estimate the effects that littering has not only on human life but on environment and animal life as well.
In places where littering is less socially acceptable and where cleanliness and sanitation is regarded as a priority, the effects of littering are less noticeable, mainly because there is simply less of it. As researchers like Schultz and Stein (2009) have shown, "community appearance [is] associated with littering rates," meaning that littering in places that are already "clean, attractive, and beautified" is less likely to occur than in places that are already spoiled by littering. This shows that one of the causes of littering is the fact that litter is already there, so people simply see no reason not to add to it. However, if areas are kept clean, littering is less likely to occur simply because the nice appearance of a community does not advocate it.
The Effect of Littering on Environments
If littering is caused by humans who neglect to properly dispose of waste materials, Bethany Wieman (2012) notes how the effects of littering are especially seen in environments meant to be enjoyed by the public such as beaches and parks. Littering can destroy the aesthetic quality of these environments and turn people away from wanting to enjoy them. Businesses that depend on the patronage of people coming to these places might suffer from the lack of patronage. Therefore, a small thing like littering, caused by humans, can have detrimental effects not only on environments but also on economies. In a word, Wieman shows how all things are ultimately related and how the destruction of "the beauty of parks and beaches" can have larger ramifications on humans than they oftentimes think.
Indeed, while the causes of littering in environments are invariably dependent on human behavior, the effects are felt not only by humans but by the animal world as well. However, a brief survey of how litter affects environments will help illustrate the problem of littering in a more concrete way. For example, street litter is often washed "into storm drains, into our waterways and ultimately ends up in the ocean" (Wieman, 2012). From there it is easy to understand how the litter can wash up on beaches. Simply because people discard cups, wrappers, cigarette butts, and other trash into street gutters and onto sidewalks does not mean that such litter will stay there. Climates, of course, play a part in what happens to such litter. Still, it is not difficult to see how the litter in one environment (land) can end up in another environment (water), especially in our modern age of sewage systems and removal, where things strewn haphazardly on the ground often end up in bodies of water.
Marie-Madeleine Couteaux et al. (1995) assert that climate, in fact, "is the dominant factor" in litter decomposition in environments "subjected to unfavorable weather conditions" (p. 63). Couteaux et al. stress the importance that climate and weather play on the effect of litter on environments. They also note, however, the litter "quality" plays a part in the cause and effect relationship. For example, litter should not be thought of primarily in terms of wrappers, butts, and misplaced waste. It should also be considered in its various stages of decomposition. Manufacturers of items that are often seen as litter take this view into consideration when they produce their items to be biodegradable with less of a footprint on environments. Items that are not biodegradable, such as plastics, tires, glass, steel, etc., are some of the causes of pollution in many places like India, where there is little concern for the proper disposal of waste and/or recyclable materials. Recycling facilities can provide a place for such materials when they are no longer usable, but getting these materials to such facilities is part of the problem. Littering is seen as an easier alternative. Littering, however, leads to more pollution, contaminated water supplies and soil. Bio-degradable materials, on the other hand, like paper, bones, and food, are less hazardous to environments because they are made of carbon and can be broken down and absorbed back into the land. Non-biodegradable materials are not absorbed back into the land: They can be, in fact, hazardous. Therefore, those who partake in littering should bear in mind the destructive effect they have on the environment around them.
The Effect of Littering on Humans
The main reason they should bear this in mind is that these environments are home to both humans and animals. Humans and animals suffer from the effects of littering. In merely human terms, it may be observed that one of the effects of littering is monetary: "Estimates for the cost of litter show that $11.5 billion are spent on abatement and clean-up activities each year" (Schultz, Stein, 2009, p. 6). This can be a huge burden on taxpayers who shoulder the brunt of this clean-up. Littering, essentially, effects humans where it hurts them most -- in their wallets.
Littering also has detrimental effects on humans in other ways, however. It reinforces a sense of entitlement that does not rightfully belong to them: They view the world as their own personal garbage can, which they can utilize to their convenience just so long as they do not have to deal with the ramifications. They do not realize that they do have to deal with the ramifications (either by paying taxes to clean up the roads and waterways) or by seeking cures for problems like consumerism, which researches like G. Tyler Miller (2006) describe as a "virus" that thanks to globalization is now affecting even third world countries where poor people are taught by advertisers to consume that which does not nourish them (p. 15). One of the effects of this consumeristic, materialistic mentality is littering.
A lack of respect for the body, mind and soul leads to a lack of respect for one's environment. One's environment can then become polluted, sickness and disease can fester and spread, and humans end up suffering physically from their own neglect of self and land. Littering can cause disease to spread and humans to become sick. Thus, while humans are the cause of littering, littering can in turn lead to the sickness and death of humans. In this sense, littering can be seen as an exercise in self-slaughter.
The Effect of Littering on Animals
But humans are not the only creatures to suffer from littering. Animals can suffer as well. One of the detrimental effects of littering on animals is that it can disrupt their ecosystem. Take, for instance, the particular work that insects play in the pollination of earth's plants. If fields and streams where insects live and…