Learning About Litter

What is it?

Litter is any product or material that is lying around on our highways, parks, beaches or streets that doesn't belong there.

Litter can happen accidentally by blowing in the wind, but often it is because of our carelessness by not taking the time to dispose of our garbage properly.

Why should we care?

  • Litter is damaging to plant life. Litter can harm or stunt plant growth.
  • Every year, millions of birds, fish and animals die from ingesting litter.
  • Litter on the ground and in our water is dangerous to humans.
  • Litter destroys the beauty of the community. Litter begets litter. One piece of litter on the ground signals others to litter.
  • Litter is a safety hazard. It is a breeding ground for rodents and bacteria.

Facts About Litter


The average distance someone will carry garbage before littering is 12 paces. Always put your garbage in a can. If you can't find one, hold on to your garbage until you can find a can.

Most litter occurs within 5 meters of a garbage receptacle.

Single use food and beverage litter made up 45 per cent of litter cleaned up in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup in Ontario. www.shorelinecleanup.ca

There are 8,000 tonnes of cigarette butts dropped by Canadians each year, the majority within 10 feet of an ashtray. It takes 10 years for the filter to biodegrade.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

One of the world's largest litter disasters: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Litter that ends up in the ocean is held there by the ocean currents and is 10 meters deep of litter. Visit National Geographic's website.

How long does it take for a litter item to break down?

It takes an aluminum can 80 to 200 years to break down naturally (but if recycled, it can be reused within six weeks!). Here is the break down information of some other items:

  • Banana peel: 3 to 4 weeks
  • Paper bag: 1 month
  • Cardboard: 2 months
  • Wool sock: 1 year
  • Tin steel can: 50 years
  • Disposable diapers: 550 years
  • Plastic bags: 20 to 1000 years
  • Plastic jug: 1 million years
  • Glass: 1 to 2 million years
  • Styrofoam: 1+ million years