Waste pollution and improper garbage disposal have a major impact on the local ecosystems and wildlife. Ingesting waste or being exposed to its toxins can dramatically harm the health of different animals and the environment.
In this article, we’ll learn more about how you can minimize the effects of garbage by implementing proper disposal techniques.
One of the largest known threats to wildlife and the ecosystems they rely on is global warming. Research has proven that improper waste disposal releases chemicals—along with other harmful materials—that contribute to the ongoing effects of climate change. The damage caused by these waste products is often irreversible and has been reported to impact natural systems at a much faster rate than previously expected.
Among other harmful effects, some waste left inside landfills releases methane gases, which, when produced in excess amounts, enhance the adverse effects of global warming. When burned, these products also emit dangerous levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas known to cause increased global temperatures.
In addition to waste products being burned, trees and other natural landscapes are being cut down to make space for further waste disposal. During this process, plants and trees that naturally produce oxygen are often torn down, impacting the creation of clean air.
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Every region of the world depends on different ecosystems to thrive and support local wildlife. That said, a major consequence of improper global waste disposal is the long-term impact on various animal species, especially marine life and the waterways they inhabit.
When waterways are contaminated with waste products, it becomes difficult for marine animals to differentiate between actual food and trash. If an animal consumes waste, the result typically leads to death, which, in turn, drastically reduces the amount of marine life in local water sources. This has the potential to not only impact the overall ecosystem, but also those who rely on the ocean and local sources of water for their livelihood.
The animals affected by this type of waste pollution include—but are not limited to—fish, seals, turtles, whales, and other marine animals. The consumption of waste products leads to starvation because many affected species do not have enough acidity in their stomachs to break down the objects after ingestion.
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Along with consumption, another major threat to the lives of marine animals is entanglement. This occurs when wildlife becomes entangled or trapped inside plastic or other synthetic waste materials. Many animals are at risk of becoming caught in these products, including seabirds, freshwater birds, land birds, turtles, and other marine life.
Improper waste disposal is not limited to strictly everyday household products. Discarded fishing tools, such as nets, as well as other gear and marine debris, are known to entangle unsuspecting animals. The risk can also extend to those animals that rely on land for hatching, hunting, and other functions.
Beach waste poses a major threat to animals who venture beyond the water to participate in other natural processes.
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Several forms of waste products contain toxins that can be harmful to various ecosystems and the creatures that depend on them. Although further research is required on the long-term effects of some of these products, they are recognized as a significant risk factor. Nanoplastics, for example, are a by-product of improperly disposed waste that occurs when existing microplastics break down into microscopic pieces.
Unlike traditional microplastics, nanoplastics are typically small enough to accumulate in the bloodstream and cell membranes of multiple different organisms. These tiny pieces of plastic have the potential to pass through the blood/brain barrier, causing permanent damage. Some toxic effects believed to be caused by nanoplastics include neurological damage and reproductive abnormalities.
Microplastics and nanoplastics have also been found to have additional indirect toxic effects when heavy metals and other pollutants are attached to the plastic. Research has proven that the continuous exposure of plastic to fish can have detrimental effects on their immune systems.
Additionally, some research found that plants exposed to microplastics experienced:
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The improper disposal of waste can lead to or accelerate the destruction of wildlife habitats. When certain waste products (such as green waste) are discarded on or around native plants, it could cause a lack of sunlight or disrupt the competitive advantage, resulting in death.
In addition, green waste may contain invasive weeds that have the potential to overtake reserves and forests, drastically altering the biodiversity of an area.
The risk to biosecurity for animals and plants increases significantly after dumping contaminated green waste and soils. This type of improper waste disposal could spread foreign pests, such as fire ants and yellow crazy ants, into otherwise pristine habitats. Introducing new species into an environment creates unnecessary competition with native species, ultimately damaging the existing ecosystems.
This level of habitat destruction can extend to marine life as well. Certain waste products, like plastic, can smother coral and impact the overall composition of aquatic ecosystems. Plastic waste on the ocean floor can also reduce the exchange of gas between sediment and water, leading to low oxygen levels and suffocation for surrounding plants and/or marine life.