Whether they eat it, get entangled in it or are poisoned by it, wild animals are injured or killed by garbage every day. With spring (and spring cleaning) upon us, now is the perfect time to reflect on the impact our trash has on wildlife and what we can do to help.
“Some people just don’t see the harm in littering or not recycling,” says Meghann Cant, BC SPCA animal welfare educator. “The truth is even a single piece of litter can be very dangerous.” And not all littering is intentional. Garbage can easily be spilled when the truck comes around on pick-up day, or animals such as crows, raccoons and skunks can get into a trash bag and spread garbage around as they forage for food.
Trash on the ground harms birds and land animals, but can also wash into storm drains and eventually end up in streams, rivers, lakes and oceans, where it causes further injury to aquatic animals.
“Items such as cigarette butts, plastic caps and lids, and plastic bags are choking hazards,” says Cant. “Animals evolved in an environment without indigestible plastics.” Should an animal mistake a plastic cap for food and manage to swallow it, the danger isn’t over – these items can cause life-threatening blockages of the animal’s digestive system. Plastic items can also accumulate in the stomach, preventing the animal from eating real food. Eventually they die with stomachs full of plastic.
This fortunate skunk was rescued. Photo credit: Tracy Riddell.
Jars and bottles often become death traps for unsuspecting animals who try to get at the food scraps inside. Once trapped, animals struggle to remove the item but if unsuccessful, starve to death. “It’s a torturous way to die,” says Cant. Animals can also be injured as they frantically try to free themselves. “A lucky few are found before it’s too late,” Cant says. “They are taken to a wildlife rehabilitation centre to recover – often from deep neck wounds.”
A gull caught in a six-pack ring. Photo credit: Wildlife Rescue Association.
Out in the water is a different story. Injured animals are much less likely to be found and rescued. Items like six-pack rings and discarded fishing line can entangle birds, fish, turtles and other wildlife. Animals can be strangled or drown. These items can also wrap tightly and painfully around animals, cutting into wings and legs and preventing them from feeding or moving properly. Animals can develop fatal infections, lose limbs or starve.
“The good news is that you can make a difference,” urges Cant. “Ask your family, friends or coworkers to join you in a shoreline cleanup, and be part of the global effort to rid our beaches and oceans of trash.” Visit shorelinecleanup.ca for details. “You can also commit to picking up litter by adopting a street, trail, park or section of highway,” adds Cant. Check out your city’s website for more information on your local Adopt-a-Program.
To make a day-to-day difference, Cant suggests taking these simple actions:
- Recycle as many plastic products as you can.
- Buy things with less packaging.
- Cut all six-pack rings so animals can’t be caught in them.
- Avoid products that come in plastics you cannot reuse or recycle.
- Bring your own cloth bags when you go to the grocery store.
- Ask your local grocery store to promote cloth bags.
- Pack your lunch in a reusable lunch bag with reusable containers.
- Use refillable water bottles instead of buying bottled water.
“If we each do our part,” says Cant, “we can prevent animals from suffering. Plus, who doesn’t like the feeling of a ‘job well done’ when you look back at the strip of beach or boulevard you’ve just cleaned up?”
After recovering from deep neck wounds caused by a bubble
tea lid, this skunk was released. Photo credit: Wildlife Rescue Association.
The BC SPCA is a non-profit organization funded primarily by public donations. Our mission is to prevent cruelty and to promote the welfare of animals through a wide range of services, including cruelty investigations, emergency rescue and treatment, sheltering and adoption of homeless and abused animals, humane education, advocacy, farm animal welfare, spay/neuter programs, and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.