STORMWATER STRAIGHT TALK: Littering – An environmental, public health hazard

  • Published
  • Robins Public Affairs

The improper disposal of waste products has environmental and public health consequences.

The most commonly littered items include cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic bottles, grocery bags and straws. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase in use of personal protective equipment also contributed to the littering of masks, gloves and wipes.

Litter takes a long time to decompose, and the degradation process releases chemicals and microparticles into the environment. Cigarette butts are reportedly the most littered item in the world, and they contain arsenic and formaldehyde and contribute to soil and water pollution.

Improperly disposed waste products can also have an impact on land and aquatic wildlife.

When storms wash away debris from roads and sidewalks, the runoff can transport the discarded litter into the storm drain system, potentially causing clogging and flooding issues. Aquatic wildlife can become tangled in straws, plastic food packaging, masks and other waste, which can be transported through the storm drain system and deposited into streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.

Plastic waste can further be broken down into microplastic particles less than 0.5 millimeters in size. Microplastics can be from clothing fibers, household supplies, food and beverage packaging, and PPE. Microplastics may contain contaminants and harmful organic chemicals, which could cause harm to the ecosystems, biodiversity and food availability.

Plastics that have disintegrated into microplastics can be ingested by smaller aquatic life, causing a choking hazard and restricting their ability to eat the proper amount of food for a nutritious diet. An additional cause of concern is a possible transmission of microplastic pollution through the ecosystem as microplastics eaten by small aquatic animals, can then be eaten by fish, which can then be consumed by humans.

To minimize the environmental and public health hazards of littering, please keep the following tips in mind:

- Dispose of waste in trash cans, bins, and dumpsters with closed lids
- Maintain a trash receptacle in your vehicle
- Do not leave PPE on the ground for others to pick up
- If you are picking up discarded masks and gloves, use a broom or stick to avoid using your hands
- Utilize the Recycling Center at Building 987 for recyclable materials

By properly disposing your litter, you can help keep Robins AFB clean and safe. For more information, call 478-222-2526.


Editor’s Note: Stormwater Straight Talk is a quarterly column intended to educate and inform base personnel and families about stormwater management.