Many wildlife-related auto crashes can be blamed on food tossed from vehicles along Alabama roadways.
Drive along many of Alabama’s roads and you will see discarded beverage cans, plastic bags, cigarette packages, fast food wrapping and other items on the side of the road. When Alabama’s residents discard trash along the state’s roadways, as well as in the forests and waterways, not only is the litter unsightly, but it’s dangerous to Alabama’s diverse population of wildlife. Each year, millions of birds, fish and animals are strangled, trapped, poisoned and suffocated by human litter.
Small animals can get trapped in bottles or jars. Large animals can get their heads stuck in containers , which causes them to eventually starve to death or suffocate. Birds and animals can get choked on small discarded items. Plastic six-pack rings, plastic bags, fishing line and other junk can entrap or cause injury to wildlife as well.
Debris discarded along Alabama’s Gulf Coast is especially harmful to marine wildlife. According to the Alabama Rivers Alliance, our area is home to 62 percent of the nation’s fish species. Dolphins, sea turtles and other aquatic species often become entangled in the debris and eventually suffocate or drown. Many animals, like seabirds, are indiscriminate feeders and unintentionally ingest debris. Others confuse trash with food, which can lead to strangulation, starvation and death.
Even though littering in Alabama is a Class C misdemeanor and carries a $250 minimum fine for first offense and $500 fine for each subsequent conviction, people still do it. In fact, according to www.statisticbrain.com, 75% of people throughout the country admit to littering in the last five years with 50% of littered items being cigarette butts. Many people believe cigarette butts are harmless, but animals and birds often mistake them for food. When swallowed, they can block the digestive tract and cause wildlife to become ill or starve to death.
Littering is not only dangerous to wildlife, but it’s dangerous to humans as well. Think twice before you throw that piece of food out of your car window. Sure, you may think, “It’s food. It will decompose.” But the scent of that apple core, piece of gum or beverage you poured out could attract an animal into the road and cause it to get hit by a car or even cause a deadly wreck.
Wildlife-related crashes are a growing problem throughout the country, and many can be blamed on food that has been tossed out of moving vehicles. The smell of that food item is just too tempting for many creatures. Even if they’re not attracted to the litter on the side of the road, predatory animals such as hawks, owls, bears, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons and opossums may come to the roadside to feed on the mice and other rodents attracted to the litter.
The Wildlife Institute recommends ways to reduce wildlife-related accidents caused by littering:
- Don’t litter; it’s against the law.
- Carry a small trash bag in the car for trash disposal.
- If you have trash in your car and you are riding down the road, wait until your next stop to discard the items.
- Don’t eat in the car; dine in or wait until you get to your destination.
- Slow down. Driving at or below the speed limit improves your chances of stopping safely if an animal runs in front of you.
- Drive carefully, especially at night. Look for the reflection of animal eyes from your lights along the sides of the roads. When you see an animal, slow down and dim your headlights to allow them to see long distances. Bright lights can temporarily blind them.
- Organize a trash clean-up drive.
- Be particularly careful driving at dusk and dawn when animals tend to roam.
Each year, the state spends millions of dollars cleaning up litter. Several organizations and groups are dedicated to keeping Alabama clean as well. Alabama PALS, a non- profit 501(C)3 organization, is dedicated to working with Alabama communities to promote a cleaner and healthier Alabama.
The programs of Alabama PALS are designed to assist Alabama cities, counties, schools and communities by providing programs that address litter prevention, cleanup and litter control. The programs offered through Alabama PALS are available to all Alabamians and their respective locations at no cost. All materials and supportive items are available through the PALS office.
In addition to not littering, you can volunteer your time to help clean up the state. Make plans now to join thousands of Alabama Pals volunteers during the 2013 Alabama Coastal Cleanup on September 21, 2013. For more information see the Pals Newsletter at www.alabamacoastalcleanup.com.
You can also discourage others from littering by posting your witness account, description, evidence of littering and dumping at http://www.litter-bug.org/report_littering.asp?STATE_PROVINCE=Alabama.
Thousands of animals and millions of dollars could be saved each year if people would simply discard their trash properly. So, next time you’re tempted to toss that plastic cup or piece of food out your window, think about the damage it could cause.