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One Small Way to Save Many Wild Lives

Trash Clean up in river

Each year, more than 3,000 wild animals are brought to the Wildlife Center of Virginia to be treated for life-threatening illnesses or injuries. Sometimes the results are catastrophic, but even a minor injury or illness can be deadly in the wild. Just by needing some time to rest or heal, an animal may become vulnerable to predators.

The good news is that many of these mishaps are easy to prevent. And perhaps the most preventable of all come from the terrible human habit of littering.

We’ve all seen how bottles, cans, cups, wrappers, cigarette butts and straws can accumulate along roadways and in nature. But you’re also contributing to litter when you release helium balloons at a party, or set aside some fishing line and tackle at the river.

For wildlife, all of these can cause serious problems. A curious raccoon or skunk might find its head or paw irreversibly wedged in the opening of a bottle or can. A turtle might chow down on a plastic wrapper, which creates a dangerous blockage in its digestive system. A duck can become entwined in a discarded fishing line, becoming more tightly wound as it struggles to escape. A songbird may use the string from an old balloon to make her nest, leaving its offspring in danger of becoming entangled in it.

Most litter, especially single-use plastics, will take decades to biodegrade. And the items rarely stay where you dropped them; wind and rain can carry them to nearby storm drains and streams, which quickly carry them to rivers. When they reach the ocean, they drift well beyond our ability to remove them from an animal’s path.

Here’s What You Can Do!
Resolve not to litter for any reason. When you’ve finished a drink or snack, put the waste in your pocket or keep it in your car until you can get to a secure trash can.

Don’t release helium balloons. They look so pretty as they drift away, but of course what goes up must come down. The string, and the balloon itself, might land right in the path of an animal that could be harmed by it.

Properly dispose of old fishing line and tackle. When leaving your favorite fishing spot, be sure to gather up all of your discarded equipment to put them in the appropriate receptacle.

Reduce the trash you are generating. Cut back on single-use plastics by investing in reusable items like cloth shopping bags and metal water bottles. Instead of buying sliced fruit in a plastic container, buy the whole melon or pineapple and cut it yourself.

Get involved. Join a litter cleanup in your community—your local parks and rec department may have a scheduled event. Or you can work with your school, church or workplace to pitch in with VDOT’s Adopt-a-Highway program.

For those who would never dream of leaving litter behind, here’s some guidance that might come as a surprise: Even tossing an apple core or banana peel out of your car window is a bad idea. Yes, these things will easily biodegrade, and they do make a tasty snack for the wildlife who encounter them. But that treat will tempt wildlife close to the road, and in turn their predators, exposing them all to the danger of passing vehicles.

Considering all of this, it’s easy to see how just putting one piece of trash in the appropriate place could save multiple wild lives.