Much is made of plastic’s impact on our marine environments. And rightly so, given the massive destruction that plastics can wreak on our oceans. With 80 percent of marine garbage being land-based, 90 percent of that is estimated to be plastic. Unlike other materials, plastic never truly decomposes; it simply breaks into smaller bits that will remain in the oceans forever as a sort of microscopic plastic soup. And that plastic soup the ocean is becoming has had a prominent effect on marine wildlife. But what of the plastic waste that never reaches the ocean and is instead confined to land? Are plastics a danger to terrestrial animals too?

The answer is a resounding “yes!” Plastic waste that never makes its way to the ocean still ends up being very dangerous to both wild animals and domesticated ones. And the impacts felt by these animals closely mirror their marine brethren. They can suffer from various forms of entanglements as well as accidental consumption which may be deadly. This can be a heartbreaking topic, but it’s important to address for the sake of animals everywhere.

1. Plastics Can Cause a Headache….

You may have seen viral videos of an animal like a dog or raccoon walking around with a peanut butter jar or the like stuck on its head. While some may find this comical, the end result for many animals is actually no laughing matter. Food containers were generally made for knives or spoons to be dipped into them or to have their contents poured out. They certainly weren’t made for serving up tasty morsels to hungry animals. An animal with its head stuck in a plastic food container may suffer from overheating, suffocation, dehydration, starvation, and eventual death from these elements. It is also not equipped to defend itself from a threat.

2. …And a Bellyache, for That Matter

raccoons in dumpsterChristina Welsh/Flickr

Plastics don’t belong in a lot of places, and a belly is one of them! Animals may mistake plastic for food, or they may consume plastic in the process of eating the leftover food it contains. Either way, it does no good for a tummy that belongs to a dog, a crow, or a cow. Plastic stands to cause intestinal blockages in an animal that consumes it. Death is the ultimate tragedy for animals that consume plastic, and this is a sad fate that both wild and domestic animals alike can face.

3. Plastic Paws

Have you tried walking around with plastic wrapped around your legs or a food container stuck on your feet? It probably isn’t very easy. In an addition to being flat-out uncomfortable, it can also be dangerous. An animal that can’t walk also can’t get away from predators or an oncoming car. It will also have a difficult time getting to food or water sources. Plastic can also cause terrible wounds to an animal, even resulting in loss of limbs. The Humane Society of the United States says that for them, raccoons stuck in plastic ring beverage holders is a common injury, with the animals slicing up their bodies on the plastic. Ouch!

4. Plastics Don’t Fly With Birds

crow eating plasticMrTinDC/Flickr

Similar to plastics hurting animals that walk, birds also stand to be impacted by plastic when it impedes their ability to fly. For example, if they end up with plastic soda rings around their body or a plastic bag gets wrapped around their wings, it can be a serious problem. Staying close to their flock, getting up into a tree or nest for safety, or migrating isn’t possible without wings! Additionally, birds may even endanger their young accidentally by using plastic nesting materials that stand to hurt the next generation.

5. Oh, Deer!

This last one is a tragic tale shared by a professor at Mississippi State University. A friend of his spotted a buck with a full set of antlers on a trail camera. Wrapped around the buck’s antlers was a piece of plastic twine used for bailing hay. Two weeks after the trail camera sighting, the man found the same buck dead and entangled with another dead buck’s antlers with the plastic twine. Bucks often spar with each other using their antlers, but this tussle became deadly when the plastic litter prevented the two from separating. They most likely suffered immensely before succumbing to the tiny piece of plastic litter.

Tell Plastic To Peace Out!

Knowing the impact that plastic can have on the animals around you, surely you want to do all you can to keep them safe from this nasty villain.

The first step to take would be to reduce the amount of plastics you use. If you have a choice at the grocery store, aim for foods that come in larger single packages rather than individual ones. And try to avoid produce wrapped in plastic bags or packaged in plastic trays.

Second, eliminate your single-use plastics and opt for reusable products in their place. You can cut plastic beverage containers from your life by using cups, mugs, reusable water bottles, or even a mason jar to tote your water, juice, and tea around with you. Don’t forget your stylish reusable bags when you go to the grocery store! And you can also replace any plastic eating utensils, plates, and cups with reusable ones – your monthly grocery bill will benefit too!

When it comes to clothes, every year, 100 billion new clothing items are produced, 60% of all clothing is made from plastic which either goes right to the landfill or is burned in incinerators, and over 2.2 million tons of microfiber pollution from synthetic clothing enters our oceans! So it’s important to be conscious of your fashion footprint when you think about cutting out plastic from your life. Sustainable and circular brands like Tiny Rescue are paving the way by designing recycled and plastic-free clothes that produce no waste. They can be returned and remade into new products over and over again!

Make sure to watch out for products you may be using or habits you may have that contribute to plastic pollution. Learn more about how the use of Teabags, Cotton Swabs, Laundry, Contact Lenses, Glitter, and Sheet Masks pollute our oceans so you can make more informed decisions going forward. There are also numerous simple actions and switches that can help cut plastic out of our lives, including making your own cosmetics, shampoo, toothpaste, soap, and household cleaners, using  mason jars, reusable bags/bottles/straws, and avoiding microbeads!

Finally, for the plastic you can’t eliminate from your life, try to be mindful of how you dispose of it to reduce the chances it may endanger an animal later on down the line. Cut those plastic drink holders so the rings won’t entangle an animal. To help eliminate some of the temptation, rinse containers out as best as possible. And try to make sure your garbage and recycling bins aren’t easily accessible to either your pets or the local squirrels – keep a sturdy lid in place and a lock if need be.

Easy Ways to Help the Planet:

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  • Do What You Can: Reduce waste, plant trees, eat local, travel responsibly, reuse stuff, say no to single-use plastics, recycle, vote smart, switch to cold water laundry, divest from fossil fuels, save water, shop wisely, donate if you can, grow your own food, volunteer, conserve energy, compost, and don’t forget about the microplastics and microbeads lurking in common household and personal care products!